If Alexander Graham Bell is in heaven monitoring the uses being made of his 1876 invention the telephone, he must be immensely proud of the way it was employed in Wollongong and Queanbeyan in the small hours of Saturday morning. His clever contraption enabled Melissa Arnold, a triple-0 control centre officer in Wollongong, to play a saintly part in the delivery of the baby girl of Kelly Stocks of Karabar, Queanbeyan, 184 kilometres away.
For Stocks, the nightmare of every pregnant woman came true, when she found herself alone at home (her husband, Alan, was on his way home from Yass, having taken their young son James to in-laws in the bush) and with her strong-willed baby declaring its determination to be born, now.
Stocks dialled triple-0 and suddenly wasn't alone after all, because she had the reassuring company of Arnold.
The baby girl, Lila, was born during the tense 19 minutes the two women were in conversation and while the woman in Wollongong was using the ''pregnancy protocol'' to advise the woman in Queanbeyan. But it's clear that Arnold, as well as being super professional, was being warm and comforting over and above the call of duty.
Arnold was still sounding buoyed and delighted about Saturday morning's events when this columnist spoke to her yesterday. She had been deep into her 12-hour 6pm to 6am shift when, at 3.20am, the phone rang and it was Stocks with her delivery irresistibly under way.
While there's a step-by-step protocol for these imminent deliveries, Arnold explained, it involves things like urging the impending mother and/or a companion on the spot to fetch some towels (with which to wipe the newborn's face) and a blanket (in which to wrap the baby once it emerges) it was a bit fraught to expect Stocks to go galloping around the house. But everything worked out.
''Kelly was great!'' Arnold rejoiced yesterday. ''[Laughing] She actually kept me calm! But I've got three kids myself, so I've obviously given birth three times, so I have a sense of what's happening.''
Nineteen minutes is a long time in childbirth. Things happened quickly, as Arnold typed out all her conversation with Stocks and sent it to a screen in the ambulance that had begun its rush from the Canberra Hospital. And so, when Stocks, lying on her Karabar couch, called out ''Oh, the head's coming out!'' Arnold was able to pass on this breaking news to the scurrying ambos.
''I just kept telling her to breathe whenever she had a contraction and kept reassuring her and reassuring her and telling her I was with her and saying 'Yes, I'm going to stay here with you.' Then, [with the baby born] just to hold the baby to her chest. I kept talking to her. I asked her 'Is it a little boy or a little girl?' and [laughing] I remember her saying 'I don't know, I haven't checked yet.' ''
Arnold has had a few experiences like this. Yesterday she recalled one time when she was on the phone to an excitable father at a birth, running through all the advice and ''Dad put the phone down. And he didn't come back! But I heard the baby begin to cry in the background, so I knew all was well.''
On Monday (columnists get all the best gigs in journalism), I sallied forth to see the new baby and her parents. Lovely Lila, (she has a wonderful thatch of black hair just like her father's) was radiating serenity in spite of the turbulent circumstances of her arrival. Her mother works for Southern Cross Media at Watson and her father is in the air force.
Memories of the morning are still very fresh for Kelly Stocks. She remembered things with a kind of quietly excited stream of consciousness.
''[Things suddenly accelerated] and I thought 'I have to call triple-0.' And I did and I laid down on the couch. I told Melissa 'I need an ambulance' and she said 'It's OK, they're on their way.' She was timing my contractions for me and telling me when to breathe and everything. And then I had to push at one stage and felt the baby coming out and then she did come out and I freaked out a little bit. She started crying straight away and Melissa told me to check that the cord wasn't around her neck, which it wasn't, so everything was good. So I cuddled her and then a few minutes later the ambulance arrived and they took over and I calmed down a bit.
''And so [laughing, and pointing to the venue of Saturday morning's excitement] I gave birth on the lounge! But luckily we already have a new lounge on order. It's due to be delivered next week. So this one's headed to the tip!''
''And Melissa! She was wonderful. She was the best.''
Perhaps the serene Lila will be told, one day, of the part that Melissa Arnold and Alexander Graham Bell played in her safe arrival.