Isabel Sherr stepped into a Loudoun County Circuit courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit and silver shackles Friday.
In November 2005, Sherr was sentenced to four years in prison on two felony counts of child abuse and neglect for attempting to drown her then 4-year-old son and 19-month-old daughter in a bathtub in their Lansdowne home. Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Horne sentenced Sherr to five years in prison on each count, two years served as active incarceration and suspended six years of her sentence.
At the time, Horne ordered Sherr, who claimed to suffer from postpartum depression, be evaluated by Loudoun County Mental Health to determine her mental-health needs. After reviewing her evaluation, Horne agreed to consider replacing some of Sherr’s jail time with therapy.
ON FRIDAY, Sherr’s attorney Alex LeVay presented Horne with an alternative to Sherr’s jail time.
LeVay said Inova Fairfax Hospital has secured a place for Sherr to receive treatment for postpartum depression, in place of the suggested jail time. Sherr, who has a history of mental illness, has already received treatment from Inova Fairfax Hospital, where her mother works as a nurse.
In LeVay’s proposed plan, Sherr would participate in a "rigorous" all-day hospital program at Inova Fairfax Hospital in addition to another mental-health program in Arlington and a postpartum depression support group. He said she would be able to reside with her mother, if allowed.
"Try to compare the Department of Corrections to Inova Fairfax Hospital. There’s no comparison," LeVay said. "You couldn’t find a better situation."
COMMONWEALTH ATTORNEY Sean Morgan argued Loudoun County Department of Corrections would be able to meet Sherr’s needs and the need for justice, safety and protection outweighs what is "best" for Sherr.
He also reminded the court that on Nov. 29, Horne ordered Loudoun County Mental Health to perform Sherr’s evaluation to determine her mental-health needs after she is released from jail, not during incarceration.
Morgan said LeVay went beyond the scope of Horne’s orders to provide the court with information based on what the defendant and the defendant’s council "perceived her needs to be."
LeVay argued Loudoun County Department of Corrections is not prepared or capable to address postpartum depression.
"Postpartum depression is unique to women, it's hormonal, it's complicated," LeVay said. "We don't know everything about this area."
HORNE said he requested Loudoun County Mental Health perform Sherr's evaluation to determine the best way to protect herself, her family and society.
"It is the court’s duty to protect the rights of those who can’t protect themselves," he said.
"The court’s concern is what’s going to happen in the future."
Horne suspended an additional two years of her four-year sentence under several conditions. Sherr is not allowed to have contact with any family members while incarcerated, rejecting LeVay’s recommendation she live with her mother.
"This gives her family breathing time to consider how they’ll address the aftercare program," Horne said. "It gives Sherr time to reflect before she begins her aftercare program."
Once she is released from jail, she must enroll in a part-time aftercare program suggested by the court and she has been ordered to repay all court costs for additional counseling provided for her.
Sherr will be on supervised probation for five years after she is released from prison.
Sherr has received support from friends, family and strangers familiar with mental illness and postpartum depression, LeVay said.
LOUDOUN COUNTY MENTAL Health Emergency Services coordinator Debra Snyder said it is typical for woman to suffer from depression, referred to as "baby blues," three to seven days after delivery.
Postpartum depression manifests itself in many different ways, from panic attacks to thoughts of suicide, Snyder said.
Characteristics range from irritability and difficulty falling asleep to a disinterest in the newborn and obsessional thoughts of violence toward the newborn. If a woman is suffering from postpartum depression after one week of delivery, she should seek help.
Snyder suggested new mothers suffering from or experiencing depression contact their obstetrician gynecologist.
"Many women feel guilty and are reluctant to discuss their problem," she said. "Doctors are familiar with postpartum depression and see it all the time."
In an emergency, call Loudoun County Mental Health's emergency number 703-777-0320.
"It's treatable and time limited," Snyder said. "Early intervention is very important."
There is a 30 to 50 percent chance postpartum depression may reoccur after another pregnancy.
"It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's pretty severe," Snyder said.