Steven Rocher's Christmas morning began like many other holiday celebrations. He woke up early and went over to his mother's house to surprise her with gifts.

He then bought his usual morning coffee, and while waiting to catch a bus to go to his job as a SEPTA police officer, he wound up helping to deliver a baby.

This Christmas-morning babe was not wrapped in swaddling clothes or lying in a manger, but rather was wrapped in a baggy sweatshirt and lying on a gritty North Philadelphia sidewalk.

And it's a girl.

Rocher, a 26-year veteran SEPTA officer, said he heard a woman screaming at about 5 a.m. on 18th Street near Lehigh Avenue.

He saw a man tugging on a woman's underwear as she lay sprawled on the paving.

Being a cop, he naturally thought the worse.

"I thought this guy was about to rape her," he said in an interview. "I was ready to take action."

But when he approached, he saw that the woman was in labor.

Rocher bent down and tried to comfort the woman as the other man, the baby's father, pulled the new-born into the world.

A third unidentified man covered the woman with his coat, Rocher said.

"Next thing, we had a baby girl," Rocher said excitedly over the phone yesterday.

"I've never had something like this happen to me before."

Moments later, Rocher saw a transit-police cruiser and flagged it down.

Medics cut the umbilical cord inside the emergency vehicle, and mother and child were taken to Temple University Hospital.

Rocher said the baby girl and her parents were fine.

At the hospital, the father sat rocking in a chair and thanked Rocher repeatedly.

But Rocher humbly brushed off the gratitude and said, "She did all the work. To hear the baby cry was the most rewarding thing."

As of yesterday, he said the parents, who were not identified, had not selected a name for their new arrival. Rocher, a father of three grown sons, said he hadn't even changed a diaper in 17 years, but that this experience was life-changing.

"This will be a Christmas I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said.

"I hope I get to meet her." *