Best known as a comic wild man, Tom Arnold—ex-husband of Roseanne Barr and a star of the new movie Happy Endings—has lost 70 lbs., is in recovery from alcoholism and has struggled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder since childhood. Now, Arnold, 46, and his wife, Shelby, 33, a former political consultant, are battling male infertility, a condition shared by 10 percent of men.
Tom: I found out when I was in college at the University of Iowa that I had a fertility problem. I saw in the paper you could get $35 every time you went over to the fertility clinic and masturbated. I said to my roommate, "Dude, I'll go over there like three times tomorrow." But after the first test, they told me, "Listen, we've got some bad news. Your motility is terrible, and your sperm count is too low."
During my first marriage—to Roseanne—we tried to have children. It did not work. With my second wife, we didn't really try. But with Shelby, I saw someone who was very stable and I said, "I'm going to really try." The first night we met—on a blind date in 2000—we talked about children.
Shelby: I knew that Tom would be an amazing father. He's very giving of himself. But even before we were married, Tom knew that to get pregnant, we'd have to do in vitro. Never did either of us imagine that we'd be sitting here after three years of marriage, still not pregnant or with children.
We weren't even married yet when we went to a fertility specialist. It felt odd and so unromantic and just weird. He said to us, "You need to do in vitro, you need ICSI [intracytoplasmic sperm injection]," where they inject one sperm into a single egg. We got married June 29, 2002. Tom was 43 and I was 30. That September we tried in vitro for the first time.
Tom: The doctor was confident. We were confident. But you only have a one in three chance of succeeding under the best of circumstances. That would get to me. I think it's a man thing. If it's humanly possible to fix it, I would fix it. But this was something that was completely out of my control.
Shelby: For the woman, it feels like just you trying to have a baby. You administer estrogen and progesterone shots to yourself. You have to mix them and administer a shot every night before you go to bed. You go to the doctor every other day to have blood tests and ultrasounds. As you get closer to the day they're going to retrieve the eggs, you feel like a pregnant fish with all these eggs in you. It's a very odd feeling. Then you have surgery where they remove the eggs. We did it five times. Nothing. Tom: It's like you take this long journey, and you get there and nobody's home. I'd tell her, "It's not you, it's me."
In February the heartache of failed IVF efforts collided with the pressures of a major home renovation and changes in Tom's TV work with FOX Sports.
Tom: Shelby was under a lot of stress. This whole time we were rebuilding our house, and Shelby was managing the project. And then with the in vitro and the hormones and everything, it was too much. I was working at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville. I had just interviewed President Clinton, and Paul McCartney was singing. I checked my e-mail on my BlackBerry and there's a note from Shelby.
Shelby: I wrote, "I don't know what to make of everything. I'm just going to go stay at a hotel to be away."
Tom: I just said, "That's it. She's gone."
Shelby: I didn't actually move out, but I felt very alone. Tom works a lot, and I support that. But it was me going to the doctor alone, getting these blood tests. This last time, I needed to feel supported. And then it turned out differently-that's what made me explode.
Tom: We went back to the doctor. And I want to say this: I had an ego thing at first about my sperm, my DNA. But after this last thing, I told the doctor, "I'm willing to use sperm donors. I'm willing to adopt. I want it to be easier for Shelby." And he said he didn't think a sperm donor had a better chance of getting Shelby pregnant than I did if he did this one thing. And I said, whatever it is, I'll do it. He wants to try a procedure where they cut a tiny hole in the side of your scrotum and take the sperm right from your testicle. If you're a man, that's probably the last thing you want to have done. But finally, I was going to be able to contribute. I'll do it in a heartbeat.
Shelby: I'm willing to try it. We're fortunate that we have been able to try more than once. Each in vitro procedure cost us at least $20,000, and our insurance doesn't cover it. When it doesn't work, you feel like (a) I spent so much money, (b) I feel terrible, (c) my body looks terrible, (d) you've put your life on hold. You start to feel like, Why me? But I've learned that I am very strong.
The Arnolds have decided to delay further treatment until renovations on their home are completed early next year.
Tom: We're not done trying. What I've come to learn is that it's sort of a spiritual thing about the right time. And if we have to adopt, we will adopt. But there will be a baby living with us.
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