The Cassandra Pages is a weblog of personal reflections on world culture, place, and spirit. The author, Beth Adams, uses the internet pen name "Cassandra".

Gifts for a Baby
by Beth Adams

With the waning days of the year, I am, as usual, knitting - not a Christmas gift this time, but a sweater for an unborn baby. What's strange is not knowing when I will greet this child. I've never even met its mother in person.

This baby will be born in China early in the new year. The mother and I "met" through a mutual friend, a journalist, and have been corresponding by e-mail for about two years. The close friendship has changed both our lives despite the enormous distances we must span in culture, language, and experience. Yuan is a modern, well-educated Chinese woman whose career has been in business. She writes English quite well; she is relatively affluent, with a cell phone, computer, and CD player; but she also knows and loves traditional Chinese poetry and calligraphy. Yuan resisted marriage for many years, wanting to remain independent, but last year she married and soon became pregnant. Through her, I'm learning what it's like to prepare for motherhood in the world's most populous country:

June: "You cannot imagine how many people in the Women Birth Hospital. You cannot register unless you come there in the early morning 6 o'clock. The hospital open at 8. I wait from 8 am to 12 am. Many people stand or sit or lean against wall in the passage, some husbands or mothers sit in the stair of the building. You know the first month I was so soft in my limbs and feel sick, I nearly fall in a faint. Also you cannot imagine how many people in the consulting room. No other seats for the waiting women, so they stand in the middle."

"The doctor check me rapidly and ask her intern write down what she said. I want to ask her something but I see another pregnant woman has lay down on the check bed and the doctor was asking something to her! This hospital is the best in China about women birth. But there are too many people. From this reason, I don't want to create another one in the world."

July: "Please tell your mother I have milk to drink. 500g everyday. Is it enough? Oh Beth, I never think it is a life in my body, I have no feeling I will be mother! Maybe some months later I will have this feeling? I don't know."

August: "I feel better now, just cannot have everyday good sleep because of the sultry nights and the noise in the street. I asked many questions to my mother but she said she don't know or have forgotten! She said when she was pregnant, there was no food, they have just had maize gruel, she takes and then vomits. In that age, all the pregnant women must work everyday otherwise no wage and would be blamed no good in political. So nobody care the baby include herself. No suggestion from her, I got some books myself."

September: "Beth, the baby began to kick me oftenly, but I still have no feeling to be a mother! I don't know what to say to it. I listen to some music and read and sleep - I still wake up in the 2 o'clock in the morning. I feel tired in the daytime. But the baby grow bigger and bigger. I look like a bear or a penguin!"

October: "No class here for the pre-birthed baby's parents. I just have a check once four weeks before the seventh month and check once two weeks after the seventh month. The doctor didn't find any un-normal yet. She thought my belly is a little small too but no suggestion to me. The doctors are so busy in checking pregnant women, no time to talk with you carefully."

November (to my mother): "Dear Mamma, are you as nervous as I am when you are pregnancy? My mother said she never cared pregnant us then she was so busy in her work! In this country now one family just can birth one child. I wish the baby healthy because I cannot birth another."

This Advent, we are preparing to greet another birth. We sing, "How shall I fitly meet thee?" and our song is full of joy and sorrow, because we know too much. We are humbled: what can we possibly offer this child? How can we honor such a birth?

Knitting a symbolic sweater for an unseen baby, I feel a little closer to an answer. The love that shone through Jesus, from that winter night in Bethlehem to Golgatha, has endured the worst that the world can offer. Two millennia later, it still illuminates the face of every newborn child, speaking silently to us in Christ's own words: "Love one another". What we must try to give is an open heart, full of that love.

Yuan was born in the Gobi desert and grew up during what the Chinese euphemistically call "The Years of Hardship", being educated about the evils of capitalism. I grew up in Cold War America, learning about the Red Menace. Somehow, though, both of us became women with similar, stubborn beliefs about what is possible when people refuse hate and fear, and instead try to love and understand one another. We both see our coming together as blessing, and mystery. As we have gently unwrapped our lives, exchanging pictures, stories, and hopes, our relationship has expanded to embrace others -soon to include a new child, born into a world that is still imperfect, but safer and freer than ever before.

So -- I knit, and wait with my friend halfway around the world. Yuan writes:

"Today I stayed home reading, sleeping and waiting. Waiting for the baby birth and have a new life."

-- Beth Adams 2000