WELL, THIS IS AN INTERESTING WAY to end a century. Or to begin one. Or to begin a millennium. Or what am I doing? Where was I? Where am I? This is not at all how I imagined it would be.

"On my screen I'm just getting a lot of numbers," Alex says over the phone. "Apparently, this is what our baby looks like in numerical code."

I'm just getting numbers on my screen, too. I don't want to see our baby in numerical code. I want to see our baby. This is not at all how I imagined it would be.

I imagined the two of us, sitting by the fire on a Friday night, popping open a bottle of champagne. I imagined sitting on the fluffy flowered couch with the dogs curled up at our feet. I imagined a big white envelope on the table. The package that would just have arrived from the adoption agency. The package that would contain our first glimpses of a little girl in China who had been chosen to be our daughter. We would take a deep breath. We would open the envelope. We would reach inside and we would see her, fall in love with her, fall into each other's arms, fall all over ourselves with joy and promise and possibility.

Instead, he's in his office, sitting at his rickety old laptop, and I'm home here at my desktop. The call came from the agency about an hour ago. "You have a daughter . . . She is gorgeous . . . She was born on March 12, 1999 . . . She's in a pink dress . . . She's bald! . . . She lives in the Jiang Su Province, that's J-I-A-N-G S-U . . . We'll send the package tomorrow . . . Oh, she's lovely . . . Do you have an e-mail address? . . . Would you like me to e-mail her picture right now?"

"Right now?" I thought. Daughter-right-now? But . . . um. I called Alex immediately. Emergency! Emergency! Dr. Bombay! Come right away! Suddenly, I was talking like Samantha in "Bewitched." Lapsing in my terror into rerun sitcom lingo.

This is not at all how I imagined it would be.

So now here we are, me at my desktop, him at his laptop, our necks bent over our respective telephone receivers, looking at the picture of our daughter that isn't a picture at all. Apparently, our computers can't read this kind of file.

She isn't here yet. She is just a jumble of numbers. There is a piece of me, a string of my own numerical code, that is glad. She isn't here yet. I still have more time. I still have a few more moments as my old self. My nonmother self. My free self. When she comes, I will become a whole new self. A mother self. A self, they say, who will never again sleep. A self, they say, whose career could go belly up. A self who won't have time to take a shower, let alone ride a horse. A nonself?

A baby is a beginning but a baby is also an end. This is what I find myself thinking. This is not what I imagined thinking. This is not at all how I imagined it would be.

Alex suggests that I call the agency back, ask someone to please send the file in a different format. So this is what I do. "Of course!" The woman says. "Oh, she's such a cutie . . . She is living in the Kun Shan Welfare Institute . . . That's K-U-N S-H-A-N."

I call Alex back, say here it comes. I click "download." And before I know it I see a flash of pink. I close my eyes tight. A picture. Yes, definitely a picture came through. I don't want to see it until he does. There is a piece of me that is afraid to look.

Alex says he sees pink coming through, too. I say, close your eyes. He says, okay, on the count of three, let's look. I say, okay, but how about the count of 10 instead? He says okay. I say, well, you count. He says no, you count. I am afraid. I am actually trembling. I am afraid of her in the mindless way you're afraid of a creature from outer space. I am now humming the theme song from "My Favorite Martian."

Five, four, three, two . . .

I open my eyes.

"Oh," I say, and feel my spine go to rubber. "Oh!" I can't seem to get the rest of the words out. "Oh!" The rest of the words? The rest of the words are these: I know her. I feel like I've known her for a century. For a millennium. In an instant. I know her! Those enormous cheeks. Those intense eyes. That funny arch of her left eyebrow. I know her! She is she and I am I and just like that, in the blink of an eye, we belong.

I stop trembling. I stop quoting '60s TV. I am instantly and thoroughly . . . calm. This is not at all how I imagined it would be.

Alex finally speaks. "I just see little pink dots everywhere," he says. "Just speckles everywhere."

Oh. There's something wrong with the screen resolution on that old laptop. "Well," I say. "She is beautiful. She is an angel. I don't know how to tell you . . . This is so weird, honey, but I know her."

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is laskasmail@aol.com.