BELFAST, Maine — Emergency Dispatcher Stephanie Lunt cuddled baby Abigaille Jade Johnston in her arms Thursday afternoon at the beginning of her shift at the Waldo County Regional Communications Center.
It was the first time she had seen or held the wide-eyed, pink-faced girl — but not the first time she had heard her. Lunt was present in a special way for Abigaille’s birth, coaching her nervous father over the telephone at 3 a.m. Aug. 21 as he helped his girlfriend deliver the baby alone in their Burnham home.
Although there were some tense moments for dad Derek Johnston and mom Stacey Sprague, both 27, during the quick home birth, Lunt knew they had made it safely when she heard Abigaille’s first cry over the telephone.
“Derek did a great job,” she said. “He sounded pretty nervous and scared, but he did great.”
It was the first time in many years that a Waldo County emergency dispatcher had helped deliver a baby over the phone, according to Director Owen Smith, and he wanted to mark the occasion by inviting the family to the center and giving them a certificate and baby present.
His dispatchers have a protocol for every type of medical emergency, from bee stings to heart attacks to childbirth, and when people call for help the dispatchers calmly take them through the steps, one by one, until emergency medical responders are able to arrive at the address.
But Abigaille wanted out, and wouldn’t wait for the Unity Ambulance before making her debut in the world.
“We were able to complete the protocol,” Smith said with some satisfaction about Abigaille’s birth. “It was our first. We’ve come close in the past, but the ambulance always got there and stole our thunder.”
Smith said that when he arrived at work later in the morning, Lunt was “flying high” after her exhilarating 911 call.
“It gets no better than this. It really doesn’t,” he said.
According to Stacey Sprague, on the day leading up to her first baby’s birth, she was suffering from stomach discomfort. She had gone to work that day as usual at United Technologies Corporation in Pittsfield, but the ladies at work talked her into going to a hospital. Sprague did not believe the baby was coming so soon, since her due date was Sept. 5. Hospital staff checked her out and sent her home.
“She was in labor, but she didn’t know she was,” Johnston said.
His stoic girlfriend spent the evening drinking lots of water and trying to stick out the stomach contractions, which were coming faster and faster.
She went to sleep and woke up in the middle of the night, bleeding. She was scared. Johnston got his two other boys in the truck, ready to take the family to the hospital for the birth, but by that time, Sprague could feel the baby’s head begin to emerge.
“We’re definitely not going to make it to the hospital,” she remembered telling Johnston.
He called 911, and Lunt answered.
“I heard there was a lot of blood,” the calm-voiced dispatcher said. “It was pretty intense. I was excited and scared.”
But Lunt maintained her composure, telling Johnston to get Sprague from the bathroom to the living room floor and make her comfortable. The dispatcher told him to get towels to wrap the baby in and he jumped to gather up “every towel in the house,” Sprague said Thursday.
Then Lunt helped Johnston coach Sprague through her contractions, and less than 15 minutes after placing the 911 call, the 5-pound, 15-ounce baby was born. At first Abigaille was quiet, but when she opened her mouth and let out a thin wail, Lunt was relieved, and delighted.
“Congratulations,” she said to Johnston during the 911 call. “It’s definitely one for the baby book.”
Lunt told him to tie off the umbilical cord with his shoelace, and he did that, too.
“I thought I was dreaming,” Johnston said. “I can’t even explain it.”
“Now you’ll never forget,” Sprague replied. “I think it’s amazing that he’s actually the one who got to deliver her.”
Even though the birth didn’t happen exactly as the family had expected, they are ecstatic with the safe results, and their healthy daughter, who went to the hospital right after the birth to be examined. Everything was fine.
“It was a good experience,” Lunt said.
Johnston said that while it was the first time he had ever delivered a baby at home, he wouldn’t be adverse to giving it another try — with one condition.
“Only if Stephanie was on the other end of the phone,” he said.