Tom and Ashley Arnold: Our Rough Road to Parenthood
“We’re really happy. I didn’t think it was in the cards for me, I’ll be honest,” the actor and comedian, 54, said during the pregnancy.
Since settled in at home with their son, Arnold and his wife, 37, spoke to PEOPLE exclusively about their emotional experience.
PEOPLE: Congratulations! How have your first two weeks with Jax been?
Ashley: Thank you! Amazing, everything I dreamed it would be.
Tom: Actually, I have dreamt of sleeping more.
PEOPLE: What is he like so far – are you noticing any personality peeking through yet?
Ashley: He is a little Buddha, he’s perfect.
Tom: The boy loves to eat and poop. He is my son.
PEOPLE: Jax looks just like you Tom — how does it feel to finally be a father?
Tom: All fat babies look like me, but babies change daily and soon he will be beautiful like his mother.
I’ve worked diligently to become a father for 23 years. Twenty-one cycles of in-vitro with four different women, but the moment Jax was born I realized that this was exactly the way it was meant to be. I was ready because I was healthy and had the perfect partner.
PEOPLE: How did you come up with the name Jax Copeland? Any specific meaning for your family?
Tom: My dad’s name is Jack and I wanted to honor him, but not too much. I am a fan of and worked on Sons of Anarchy and my favorite character’s name is Jax. We just thought it was a cool name. Of course I called Kurt Sutter, the show creator, to get his blessing.
I’m best friends with Dax Shepard so that was also in the back of my head, too. We almost named him Jaxson, but the night before the birth I found out one of my brothers had named his mangy dog Jaxson. Obviously that made a change absolutely necessary!
His middle name is Copeland because that was my grandma Dottie’s maiden name and she was a good lady.
PEOPLE: Ashley, how was your pregnancy – any crazy cravings? Tom, what was the pregnancy like for you? Did you do anything special for Ashley?
Tom: Pancakes, French toast, In-N-Out burgers — I was in heaven. Ashley never let us have crazy fattening food in the house before but once she got pregnant, it was game on! I gained more weight than she did because I wasn’t throwing up. Plus, she’d only eat some of her food so I’d get most of hers and mine.
Ashley: My pregnancy for the most part was pretty good, although Tom might tell you different! My biggest cravings were grapefruit with cinnamon and lots of pancakes for the nausea.
Tom: She talked about taking a “babymoon” but that was when she got sick every time we got in the car, so I vetoed it. She also insisted her “push gift” be the addition on our house, which is still going on. I should’ve bought her a nice necklace instead.
PEOPLE: Can you tell us about your labor and delivery experience? What was the moment like when Jax finally made his debut?
Tom: Every man will tell you there’s nothing that makes him crazier than seeing the woman you love in pain. Even little pains. Mostly because they tell you about each one. When a man’s wife is in pain, it triggers an “I gotta put that fire out!” panic alarm. It’s exhausting.
Ashley: We ended up having to do a planned c-section because the baby was breech.
Tom: I knew Ashley was having a c-section, and against my expert advice she didn’t want a bunch of pain medication — which also meant I’d look like a jerk if I asked for a bunch of pain medication.
I felt like a good husband because I was able to hide my emotions and be present for her. I knew the doctor was doing a good job when Ashley asked her to give a countdown before she started cutting and the doctor was already halfway done.
If you are considering watching a c-section, just know that it is a real surgery. The way I was able to do it — besides my farm experience and working in a meat-packing plant for three years — is that I disassociated the surgery area from my wife. You cannot bear to see someone you love getting their guts pulled out, but if you can pretend that’s just the pink mound where your baby has been living, you should be okay.
Most husbands don’t want to watch a c-section, but I had to see my child enter this world or I didn’t know if it would seem real. He’s been on a very long journey. I know he’s been in my dreams for 35 years.
I was in shock when I saw him appear because up until that moment, I didn’t truly believe it would ever happen. The disappointments. The miscarriages. When you’ve tried and failed so many times, you eventually accept that it won’t happen for you.
When I held him, I accepted he was real and though he is obviously too good for me, he will never doubt that his father loves him very much.
I also felt a kind of super love for Ashley. An intimacy and partnership and accomplishment I did not know possible.
PEOPLE: Going back a bit, Tom — you’ve been very open about your low sperm count. How long have you known this was an issue? Is this something you made Ashley aware of relatively quickly? Why did you decide to go public with it?
Tom: When I was attending the University of Iowa, we’d donate blood and plasma to get extra beer money. One day at the hospital I saw a sign asking for sperm donors and it paid $35. I was psyched because, unlike blood, I believed I could donate this stuff three times a day. Fortunately, they give you a test first and the doctor informed me that I didn’t have many “swimmers.”
Turned out when I was born my testicles didn’t descend right away. It happens to boys sometimes. They stay inside you a while and cook. That’s why as soon as Jax was born — while the doctors were counting fingers and toes — I was counting testicles.
My infertility was a non-issue — a plus, actually — until I got married at 30. Then it became humbling. Not so much because I was ashamed, but because I knew my issue would have to be solved by the mother having to endure cycles of drugs, tests and hormones.
You have to be strong people in a strong marriage to endure that. It really weeds out the wimps and the shaky relationships, so as far as being good parent material, it’s probably for the best.
I first spoke publicly about my low sperm count in 1990, but that’s only because I thought I would have a child soon. Had I known at the time that the love of my life and future mother of my child was a seventh-grader in Denver, I would’ve kept my big mouth shut.
I was honest with Ashley about all of my baggage on our first date and yet she came back for date two.
PEOPLE: Ashley, how did you process the news?
Ashley: I always knew that I was destined to be a mother. I struggled a bit in the beginning, knowing that it would not be an easy journey to have a child.
I figured this was the path I was supposed to be on, and just knew in the end, no matter what we would have a baby. If it was through IVF, adoption, a sperm donor … I knew we both were meant to be parents, and however we got there is the way it was supposed to happen.
PEOPLE: How did you come to the decision to do in-vitro — did you try other avenues first? Was there any point in time that you wanted to give up? Why did you press on?
Ashley: Tom and I discussed his struggle to have a baby very early on in our relationship. Tom wanted to go straight into the adoption process, which I understood considering all of the years he had already spent trying to have a baby. I knew in my heart that I was going to carry my baby, and I wasn’t ready to go that route quite yet.
I went to one of his fertility doctors to get the facts. When he told me that it wasn’t impossible for Tom to have a baby, that’s all I needed to hear. I ran with that.
I am a huge believer in homeopathic medicine, and this was one road Tom had not been down. I asked him to please give me six months to work on his sperm with Chinese medicine, and if there were no changes, then we would look into adoption. Tom agreed, and our journey had begun.
We were blessed to work with Dr. Jessica Chen and Dr. Dao at Tao of Wellness. If it weren’t for them, I know Jax would not be here today. I started to get my body ready to conceive and Tom followed everything that Dr. Chen asked him to do. He changed his diet, exercised, took herbs and showed up for treatment two times a week. Six months later, Tom’s sperm was tested and the numbers had gone way up. It was working!
We then got the thumbs up to do our first round of IVF with Dr. Richard Marrs. Our fertility roller coaster had just begun.
Tom: It says a lot about my wife’s character that she was willing to go with the same fertility doctor that tried to help my first wife and me. He is the best in the world, but that’s not enough for some people to get over.
Ashley: The hormone shots were very tough at first. They hurt and it was very uncomfortable. The weight gain was one of the hardest things for me to deal with. I put on over 30 lbs. in less then two years. There are endless amounts of doctor’s appointments and needles constantly being put in your arm to draw blood.
It was an experience that I learned to take one day at a time. When I was going through the ups and downs with my own body and feelings, I had to keep my eye on the prize. I knew there would be a baby in the end, and that was the only thing that mattered to me.
Tom: In the middle of this, I went to Dr. Philip Werthman, the sperm guru, and agreed to let him try a new procedure where he cut into my scrotum. Using a syringe, he extracted the sperm directly from my testicle in case my tubing was the problem. I became an even bigger fan of adoption that day.
Ashley: The first round of IVF did not take. The second round we got the good news — we were pregnant! My numbers weren’t very strong, but we were reassured that could happen and to wait for the next blood test. Six weeks later, we lost the baby. We were heartbroken.
We took a couple months off and started all over again. The third time worked and we were on our way to what looked like a healthy pregnancy. The numbers were good and I was on my last appointment with Dr. Marrs before graduating to my OB-GYN.
This is when we heard, “I am so sorry — there is no heartbeat.” We lost another baby at 2½ months. This one put me over the edge — I was devastated. I collapsed in Tom’s arms, and he continued to be the strength and hold me up, but I knew he felt the same.
Tom: I will never forget Ashley’s face after the second miscarriage when the doctor told her he couldn’t find a heartbeat.
Ashley: We were both doing everything we were supposed to do. I had every psychic, healer, energy person and anyone that could pray and light a candle doing so all around us. The baby shrine that I started on day one in our bedroom was now spilling over with things that friends and family were sending us.
I believe in manifesting anything that you want, so why wasn’t I manifesting our baby?
Tom: I swore I would never allow her to be crushed like that again. I insisted we adopt immediately.
Ashley: We decided it was time to meet with the adoption lawyer. Those three hours didn’t sit well with me. Tom wanted to write a check and get started, and everything in my body was telling me I wasn’t ready.
Tom: She begged me for one more chance. I knew it wouldn’t work, but I couldn’t say no. Thank God she’s a stubborn chick.
Ashley: I asked Tom to stick by me for one more round. We had two frozen embryos left and it was worth a shot. He agreed.
I went in for the last round and bingo — we were pregnant. I was basically on bed rest the first three months, only leaving the house for acupuncture. My numbers kept going up, and all looked great.
It was hard to believe, and we didn’t allow ourselves to get too excited. Every test, ultrasound and doctor’s appointment was so stressful. We both just waited for the other shoe to drop.
The first time Tom actually cried with excitement and relief was at the first trimester screening when the specialist said, “The baby is healthy.” We both started crying, knowing that our baby was finally here.
PEOPLE: Do you have any advice for other parents who are also struggling with fertility issues? Looking back now, with a newborn at home, what would you have told yourself?
Ashley: Never to give up. As long and hard as something may seem, keep your eye on the end result. Anything is possible. I have a collection of Buddhas on my baby shrine, and I can honestly say that I manifested the perfect Buddha.
Tom: Try to make sure you are up for it and with the right partner. It will probably be a rough road and your beautiful little baby deserves to come into a family that is still standing tall.
– Sarah Michaud