Early in my search for a horse, I went to a clinic to try a gelding. It didn’t take long to discover we weren’t suited, but I’d driven nearly 1 1/2 hours, so I hung out for a bit and chatted with other riders, telling them what I was looking for.
I was in the middle of the driveway when a spotted Saddlebred pranced by on my left, on my right, a me-sized mom cuddled her young son.
I couldn’t decide which I wanted to look at more. It was my life defined by one moment in time: horse versus baby?
Horse shopping while taking a fertility drug might seem like a strange choice. The best way I can explain it is to say it’s about trying to live a good life in a time of uncertainty.
I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. I’ve had irregular periods, hair on my face and a weight problem for most of my life. And I never gave PCOS much thought. Doctors would say I could treat PCOS by going on birth control pills, but it did not make sense to me. I did the math; I had fewer periods every year than most people! I didn’t really care if I couldn’t predict when they would come. I knew I might have a hard time getting pregnant, but that was a far-off problem.
Until it wasn’t.
When we got serious, my husband and I agreed on a family planning course of action. We knew, given my age and PCOS, that it was important to start trying earlier rather than later. We were married just shy of a year when I went off of birth control. We knew it was likely we would need medical assistance getting pregnant, but we drew the line at IVF. For our own risk-tolerance preferences, it’s just too expensive with too low a chance of success to tempt us. We agreed we’d rather just keep trying for half a decade using the low-cost efforts.
If, after a couple of years, we still didn’t have a baby, I Informed him, then we were getting horses, and a lot more dogs. We’d keep trying for a baby naturally, more or less, but I was going to live my life, the best life I can, whether I get to be a mother or not. (We were not planning on adoption or fostering, for reasons that are too complicated and personal to get into in this space.) And the best life I can live must have horses.
We’d been trying for a baby for about six months when the first wave of crushing desire for a horse came; I’d been hunting in Virginia with a friend. Another wave came when I saw an ad for the perfect mare. (I’ll tell you about her another time; the story makes me laugh.) And the third and final wave came when my niece wanted to start riding, nearly a year after I’d started trying to get pregnant and in the first couple of months of fertility treatments.
I had started taking letrozole, a breast cancer drug that’s also sometimes prescribed to spur ovulation in women with PCOS, in March of last year. After two months, I still wasn’t pregnant, and the reality that I really might have to commit to that half a decade of trying sunk in.
My Facebook feed was flooded with PCOS groups and stories of women who’d been trying for a decade, sinking their life savings into IVF and still not having babies.
I’m fatter than many of them. I’m no more worthy or deserving of pregnancy and motherhood than any of those women. And I could picture a perfectly happy life for myself with my sweet husband and a lot more dogs and a couple horses and vacations to places kids would hate.
I’d prefer if I had a baby to snuggle, a child to teach to ride, a teenager to amaze and infuriate me, an adult child to fret over. Grandbabies. Grandpuppies. Grandgeldings, or grandrobots, if she wants.
But there was no guarantee. And so, I kept taking my letrozole, but I also added a dozen horse-shopping Facebook groups to the PCOS ones flooding my feed.
Horse shopping was harder to pull off last summer than I anticipated; we were short-staffed at work, and I had to work more weekends than usual. And I had underestimated, after years in a hunting barn in Virginia, how many equestrians spend all weekend at horse shows in the summer. I have minimal vacation time, and I don’t get the luxury of taking a day off here or there for personal pursuits. With a mother who lives in Hawaii, I have to bank my time and use it to get across most of the continent and half of the Pacific. (She has lived there long enough that I no longer think of a trip to Hawaii as a luxury, but rather as an obligation.) Weekday horse shopping was out of the question.
We went to Hawaii in August and said “hi” to Hurricane Lane from my favorite hotel, where I had many, many piña coladas and very confusing ovulation test results that convinced me we would need to up my dosage of letrozole after vacation.
But first, I planned one big horse shopping trip, back to Virginia one weekend in early September. I scheduled as many horses as I could, got dinner (with many soft cheeses and uncooked meats and adult beverages) with friends… and still came home horse-less.
A few days later, I got dinner with a local friend who has been very invested in my baby-making endeavors. I delivered a rant over riesling that went something like this:
“I’m not pregnant and my pointless meeting with the new fertility doctor in Grand Rapids is on Monday! I don’t know why I’m going, because we already know we aren’t paying for IVF, and even though there are some other things we could try, my luck has been crap lately! A hurricane came when we were in Hawaii; I still don’t have a horse… I’m very discouraged! And, I mean, technically my period was due today, but I know I’m not pregnant because I have had a lot of late periods in my life, and I had weird ovulation test results in July, too!”
But venting to a friend made me feel better, if a bit sheepish. I went home, and since I still hadn’t started my period, I dutifully took what I thought was a pointless pregnancy test.
I think you know what it said.
Karen Hopper Usher is returning to riding after several years away. She’s sharing her perspective and experiences as a plus-sized rider with The Chronicle of the Horse. By day, she is a reporter at a small newspaper in northern Michigan. She is horse shopping like it’s her second job.