One couple’s winding road to parenthood at UAB

By Lisa C. Bailey


Copeland family portrait
James and Emily Copeland with their son, Matthew

To this day, Emily Copeland and her husband, James, have no idea when their son was born. They know the year, of course, and the day, and the hour. After that, it gets a little fuzzy. There were a few too many things going on that May morning in 2006 when Matthew decided he wasn’t going to wait to full-term to make his debut—much less make it to the hospital.

Emily, who has worked at UAB for five years, got up that morning expecting to visit her obstetrician, but just for a routine visit. “My pregnancy was pretty much normal up until 28 weeks,” Emily says. “But the night before I had Matthew, I started feeling a little bit of discomfort. And I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got an appointment in the morning. I’ll just tell my doctor at 8:45. I can make it until then.’” Emily was due August 1—almost three months later—“and we really thought we had our stuff together,” she says. “We were getting his nursery ready. I had no clue.”

Their doctor’s office was about a 35-minute drive away. “And if you think about rush-hour traffic, it would have been hard enough just to get there in normal circumstances,” Emily says. “That’s why we decided to get into the car immediately, call on the way, and figure it out as we were getting there.”

As they were “getting there,” the Copelands welcomed their son into the world. After finding a place to pull over, they did everything they could think of to keep tiny Matthew warm and responsive as they waited for emergency personnel to arrive. Thanks to their quick thinking, Matthew is a healthy, active three-year-old today.

(Story continues below)

MULTIMEDIA: Listen to Emily narrate her harrowing roadside experience in this audio slideshow. 


It’s Only Natural…

artist's rendering

Due Date: Spring 2010

The Women & Infants Center and adjoining Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Facility at UAB is scheduled to open in 2010. The 640,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building will house all departments of the Women & Infants Center and replace the 33-year-old radiation facility upon its completion.

The building was topped out in fall 2008 and construction is set to be complete in January 2010. With testing, licensure, certifications and training, the project remains on schedule for a spring 2010 opening.

Emily doesn’t blink an eye when recounting these extraordinary events, downplaying her courage by saying she and her husband just did what they had to do. When reminded that she gave birth without even a trace of medicine, however, she reluctantly admits that the experience was something not to be forgotten—or repeated. “No medicine there, not even a little Advil or anything,” Emily says. “I do think about that sometimes, how some people prefer natural childbirth. I’m like, ‘Mmm OK … if I had the option, I’d take a little bit of assistance in that category.”

Despite the circumstances, Matthew made it into the world unscathed. “He did have respiratory distress syndrome,” but that is typical of premature babies and was almost expected, Emily says. “In fact, he was even bigger than he should’ve been for his gestational age. They said he weighed more like a 31-week baby, so he was actually a little chunk to be born that early. I sometimes wonder how big he would’ve been had we made it the full term.”

With her firsthand experience of the complications of pregnancy—and her appreciation for UAB’s NICU staff, it is appropriate that Emily’s current job involves raising funds for UAB’s new Women & Infants Center (see “Due Date: Spring 2010”). When she interviewed for the job, she says, “I remember thinking,  ‘Oh, how well I can relate to all of these services. You don’t have to tell me what these people do, I know.’ I feel very fortunate to be able to work closely in an area that I am very familiar with; I can stand behind these services and know how important they are. I want to be a cheerleader for that program. Those nurses and the nursing staff in the continuing care nursery and the NICU are amazing.”

Although Emily’s experience was not the stuff of fairy tales, it had a happy ending. “It’s not how we planned, but it was OK,” she says. "Somehow we made it through and we have a perfectly happy, rambunctious little three-year-old to show for it. When he was born people said, ‘There’s something special about him. There’s going to be something.’ We’re just watching to see what that is. And we don’t ever forget where he came from. We don’t ever take that for granted.”


More Information

Learn more about the UAB Women & Infants Center.