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Sailing the World (Pregnant)

Even adventurers get the blues

By Charlotte Kaufman


Sailing the World (Pregnant)

Sail boat offshore

Read Part 1 and Part 2 and stand watch for Part 4 of this series in the coming months. Follow the Kaufmans’ journey on their blog at and  see a video clip of the family and map of their route around the world.

When your 8-foot dinghy strikes a sandbar in the middle of the Bay of La Paz, it is not a life-or-death moment. To the casual observer, it would seem like our boat was simply floating in the water, since the sandbar is not visible from the shore, but smack dab in the middle of the bay is a gigantic dune of submerged sand, and our little boat had run aground on it.

It was early morning and the Coromuel winds were still blowing white-capped waves that sloshed the starboard side where I sat holding my four-month-old. Eric laughed and started pushing off of the sand with a spare oar. He had misjudged the usual passage we motored over each morning in our shallow-drafted dinghy. In a few moments he would shove us off. Heck, we could have probably stepped out onto the sand in the middle of the bay and walked our boat a few feet over, but none of this registered. Instead, my toes began to curl and my hands started clenching and unclenching involuntarily. I clamped my teeth together so tightly, I had an aching jaw the rest of the day. Sweat fevered my body, even though the wind was raising goosebumps on my toddler’s arms. I couldn’t breathe. The sky overhead was a giant vise pushing down against my body. I kept my lips in a tight line, instead of opening them into the O shape I wanted to create with an ear-curdling scream.

That panic attack should have been my first sign of impending trouble. When you set sail on a world adventure, there is a fair amount of gallivanting and gadding about that happens on a daily basis. We had decided to leave San Diego for Mexico and commence a world sailing trip, even though we had just recently discovered I was pregnant with baby number two. People have babies in Mexico every day, don’t they? It would be a lark, part of the adventure we had been planning for years.

Sailing the World (Pregnant)

Charlotte holding her baby Lyra

Charlotte and her family waited out hurricane season with their boat in a safe harbor.

But even adventurers get the blues, and in my case it wasn’t just a case of the baby blues. When my second baby was six months old, we flew back to San Diego to visit family and renew our Mexican visas. The panic attack in the Bay of La Paz had happened two months earlier, and I was still struggling. Every day was a desperate attempt for normality. Wake up. Wash face. Pull hair back. Put on my “mom uniform” of clothes that fit my postpartum body and a bra and shirt that allowed me to comfortably nurse. Dress the toddler. Clothe the baby. Make food. Visit with friends. Nod and shake your head that you were fine—just tired, thanks.

But I wasn’t okay. And during that trip to San Diego, my family in the States gave me the news that a family member was ill. On top of that, I was dealing with the breakup of close members of my family. Those two items alone are included in the list of what experts say are the 10 most stressful life events. Add moving out of the country on our boat when I was pregnant, giving birth in a foreign country, postpartum health complications, and being away from friends and family, and I just started to crack.

When we got back to Mexico, the heat of a Baja California summer was unbearable. I felt trapped inside our boat, waiting for the heat to dissipate each day. By the end of August, it hadn’t cooled off at all, and my body and my mind were slowly roasting into a ball of oppressive misery. We sailed the boat to Puerto Escondido, Baja’s only true “hurricane hole,” and moored her there to wait out the rest of hurricane season. Realizing I was at a breaking point, we rented an air-conditioned apartment next to the marina and stayed there for seven weeks, waiting out the battery of storms that hit Baja, the Sea of Cortez, and the Pacific coast of Mexico. In quick succession we weathered Tropical Storm Ivo, but even with the air conditioning, the giant freezer, and the unending access to ice cream and the Internet, I kept sinking further into an abyss. A paralyzing unhappiness had settled over me that I couldn’t shake. My brain was like a fog. I started to daydream of running away. Of escape. Of disappearing. I couldn’t bring myself to smile. Nothing brought me joy.


Sailing the World (Pregnant)

Kaufman family posing for a photo

Charlotte, Eric, Cora, and Lyra Kaufman

And then the rage came. Anger would course through me, sparked by the simplest things: the sound of my husband chewing almonds, my toddler touching my leg when my baby was nursing, a clean blanket dropping on the floor. I was enraged. I could visualize how I wanted to act out on my anger. I wanted to lift up the heavy wooden chairs in the dining room and smash them against the wall of the apartment, then take the large splinters of wood and pulverize them with my teeth. When we moved back from the apartment to the boat in preparation for returning to La Paz, I had fantasies of tearing the teak siding off the hull and gouging it into the cushions in the salon. I wanted to destroy everything. I had the deepest desire to jettison my foot through the doors of the hanging lockers, to rip them off their hinges and fling them into the sea. I had to restrain myself from ripping off every foot of the decorative teak that encircled our boat.

A few years ago I had been diagnosed with depression; I treated it with medication, therapy, and exercise. When I became pregnant the first time, I read about how a previous occurrence of depression makes you a more likely candidate for postpartum depression (PPD), and both my husband and I carefully watched for signs of PPD after both of our babies were born. The only problem was that we were looking for the same symptoms I exhibited the last time I was depressed, and this time they didn’t all match up. Did you know that rage is a sign of depression? Uncontrollable anger and irritability are too, as well as a deep, abiding sense of unhappiness. I didn’t know about these symptoms. The first time I was depressed, I was simply bleak. I lost all interest in anything that had previously brought me joy. I was sans emotions. But this time my emotions raged. I had deep red welts in my forearm, left there by my fingernails earlier that day when I had tried to channel my rage into physical pain instead of shouting or acting out toward my family. Finally the pieces all began to click into place.

Sailing the World (Pregnant)

Charlotte Kaufman and her baby Lyra in the galley

Therapy, medication, and exercise helped Charlotte Kaufman (wth baby Lyra) deal with depression while on the family’s around-the-world sailing trip.

I talked to Eric and told him my suspicions. I called my doctor in San Diego, the one who had treated me during my last experience with depression, and I did research. I had thought that going on medication for depression would mean I’d need to wean my daughter, but thankfully, many antidepressants are not contraindicated for breastfeeding. I called my therapist in San Diego and began to have regular phone appointments with her, and, most importantly, we sailed to La Paz after hurricane season and I started exercising again. None of this has been easy. My therapy phone calls are done on a cell phone from Mexico to the United States. I walk around the marina trying to sit near empty sailboats so no one but my therapist, and the pelicans, can hear my thoughts. The first medication I started turned me into a zombie. For three days I observed myself as if I were outside my body, a detached observer treading through life, until I called my doctor and we tried another kind that set me on the right course.

And how do you go public about having postpartum depression? We had already dealt with so many negative comments about leaving for our adventure; so many armchair admirals naysayed our decision to leave San Diego when I was pregnant. They tsk-tsk’d when we encountered problems, when I had pregnancy complications. I was loath to let them revel in their Schadenfreude, but in the end honesty won out. Leaving on an adventure doesn’t make you a superhero. You are not immune to life, or to living. In fact, I was trying to live more by sailing away from everything, and live we have. We have met some of the most interesting people on this journey. I gave birth to our second daughter in a foreign country. I’ve watched my firstborn child learn a second language, and blossom from a shy two-year-old into a gregarious and confident three-year-old. Was it a mistake to leave when we did? Possibly. But I wouldn’t reverse our course if I could. And as I slowly start to recover I’m already planning our next adventure. Only four more months until we cross an ocean and arrive in the South Pacific.

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