Poke. I pull back the needle and put the cap back on. Something that I've been getting very used to but never thought that I would ever have to do myself. I've always been a healthy person; I’m active, I eat pretty well (although, I'll admit I do have a sweet tooth and a severe love for cheesecake). So it came as a shock to the system and threw a wrench in my plans when I realized I couldn’t get pregnant naturally. That’s when I embarked on this journey involving an abundance of pills and needles, constant medical appointments, and seemingly endless blood withdrawals.
It all began five years ago when my husband and I first started trying to get pregnant. In the beginning, we got pregnant right away and were ecstatic. Little did we know that we actually had a blighted ovum, which is basically where your body gets pregnant and makes a sack but kind of forgets to make the actual baby. That would be just the first of a few misses.
At the time, I wanted the fact that I was not getting pregnant to mean something, and that actually drove me to become more of the horse woman that I am today. Following a miscarriage in late 2014, I wanted to find the reason why it had fallen through and to make the best of the situation. So I turned to my horses. I soon discovered the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover application and decided to apply.
I worked really hard with my two horses, Soar and Lion of Wallstreet, that year. When I went to the competition in Kentucky, it was like a dream come true. Then I won the overall title of America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred. My horses also won first and second place in the trail division. I was without words; this journey was all for something.
So, as I continued trying to get pregnant, I also kept setting goals for myself with the horses. Things took off with my business, and I was traveling around North America to teach clinics, my horses starred in feature films and television commercials, I became an extreme Cowboy Shootout Champion, judged freestyle at Thoroughbred competitions, got my level two Centered Riding instructor certification, won Legends Champion at the Midwest Fair Mustang Makeover and Versatility Reserve Champion at Equine Affaire, and presented at some amazing horse expos, including the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, Equine Affaire, Horse World Expo, and Equifest.
But it was time.
We desperately wanted to start a family. After consulting with the doctors, we really didn't have any options other than IVF (in vitro fertilization). Little did I know how those three little letters would have such a big impact on my life.
Balancing Two Dreams
The first step in IVF was a bunch of diagnostic testing. It was intense and time-consuming; I shuffled through the doctor's office doors a hundred times for ultrasounds, blood work at specific times, and underwent many, many additional tests. Plus, I was on the road a lot, so the scheduling proved to be challenging.
The second part to IVF was the egg retrieval. I was pumped full of drugs that makes your body produce a bunch of eggs. This was even trickier than the first part of testing because the medication had to be taken at exact times, and the dates for coming in for monitoring were not flexible. I still remember giving myself my first injection. I sat down and carefully read every single word of the instructions. It probably took me about an hour to finish two injections.
All the while, my mind was split between the rigors of getting pregnant and still feeling closely linked to my horses and my goals in the barn. I didn't want to give up on either one of my dreams. I made a promise to myself that I would find a way to keep going with my goals so that even if this all didn’t work out it, it wouldn’t be for nothing because I'd still have my experiences with the horses.
When it came time for the actual egg retrieval, it was awful. I'm a pretty tough cookie — I've been stepped on and kicked by horses, and I usually just keep truckin’. But the pain of the egg retrieval was like nothing else. For an entire day I stayed in bed, and I still could barely walk even a couple days later. But you can bet that before I could run, I was back in the saddle and riding as best I could. I didn't let the process get me down and continued on with my workshops and demonstrations.
The Emotional Toll
Even though the whole process of trying to get pregnant was an emotional ride, the coaster really got bumpy following the egg retrieval. At the time of retrieval, the doctors told me I had 22 eggs to start with. Then I received daily updates on how many of my eggs, and then embryos, made it to the next stage. Every day, I got a call with a new number of how many embryos died.
The doctor rang with my final number. After the egg retrieval we had eight frozen embryos - this was good news. When I started the first embryo transfer took comfort in the fact that if this first transfer failed, I'd still have quite a few more chances. That definitely took some of the pressure off, but it was hard to get too excited because - just like with horses - I knew to expect the unexpected. In so many ways, my life with horses had prepared me for the ups and downs of infertility.
"I couldn't imagine going through this journey without having something like the horses to hold on to and to find joy in."
The third part of IVF is completing the embryo transfer. Because I was at high risk for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (the ovaries become swollen and painful and can lead to severe complications), our only option was the frozen transfer. On the day of the transfer, I was very tense. Thankfully, the embryo transfer was not anywhere near as painful as the egg retrieval, but the hard part came the following three days when I was supposed to stay in bed and limit my walking, despite feeling perfectly fine.
The next week I was faced with a tough decision. For the first time, I was invited to Equine Affaire to be part of their evening Fantasia performance with my off-the-track Thoroughbred, Trivia Time, and to be a clinician and presenter during the event. When I booked the event, I didn't know that I would have just completed a transfer and would technically be pregnant and really should not be riding. But I made the decision to go and had the time of my life.
When I got back to Ontario for my blood work to see if the transfer was successful, I decided that I would embrace whatever news it was - pregnant or not pregnant. It was like watching paint dry as I waited for the phone call to hear the results. My heart was racing as I waited to hear the words, “You're pregnant.” Hearing that simple sentence, I wanted to be excited and celebrate, but then there was a part of me that remembered that this hadn’t gone well in the past. After all, I'd been pregnant before, but I still didn't have my baby. So I was cautiously excited, not wanting to let myself get fully emotionally attached.
The days ticked on and I remained cautiously optimistic. I remember the first ultrasound where we saw a heartbeat and felt such a relief — I had never made it to that stage of pregnancy before.
But around 12 weeks, I thought it was all over. During the night, I woke up with blood everywhere. I couldn’t believe I miscarried. I sent a message to my sister, and she convinced me to go to the hospital to get checked out. I was so surprised to see a baby on the ultrasound, and the doctors told me I had a hematoma but that the baby was fine. I would need to stop exercising and be careful not to strain myself, but they did tell me I was fine to drive to Illinois to pick up my mustang, Arwin - my partner for for my first ever Mustang Makeover.
So I drove to Illinois with my student to pick up our mustangs. It was a ground training challenge (no riding required). I ended up Legends Champion and overall reserve champion after our liberty performance. Pregnant and still able to be connect with and train my horses, I was on top of the world.
Remaining Who I Am
Months ago, I set aside some time in my schedule for what would be my anticipated due date and continued to make plans and goals for 2019. I'm planning to compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover, but my training schedule will look a lot different, as I’ll have to continue to do mostly groundwork until after having a baby. I’m lucky to have a great working student and an assistant student who are continuing to ride my horses and help with most of the training. It’s definitely been hard to keep my feet on the ground but I know it's for the best.
Still, the horses have kept me sane. Having goals is what gives me a distraction, as well as a purpose so I don't get brought down if things go poorly. I couldn't imagine going through this journey without having something like the horses to hold on to and to find joy in. It means when I get bad news, I still have something good.
In my experience so far, it has never been “if” you will have bad news but “when.” I'm really hoping that this time it will be good news all the way to a healthy baby, but having my horses gives me the balance, the routine, and the joy that I need in the event that we have to start all over again.
As I write this, I have about eight weeks to go. I can't wait to meet my baby girl, but this has been a scary process, and I would be lying if I said I was fearless about what comes next. There are many things that can go wrong and there is still no “safe” date. I don’t know what’s in store for me and my husband, but what I do know is that the horses will be there for me no matter what.
Illustrations by Cadre Collective.