The Beijing Olympics are still six months away, but all over China they're already making reservations for opening day — in maternity wards.

According to a recent report in the Beijing News, there is keen demand among the Chinese population to have babies born on the very day the Olympics begin on Aug. 8, which translates to the numerically alliterative 8-8-8.

The Chinese, says the report, are keen numerologists, revering certain numbers (9 is king) and sequences of numbers such as 888, which translates to a lifetime of triple prosperity. To have a child born on such a numerically auspicious day means a jump start to a life on easy street.

Add in the birth coinciding with an occasion as momentous as the Olympics — it's no coincidence that Opening Ceremonies for the Chinese Games are scheduled to begin at 8:08 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the millennium — and you've hit the feng shui lottery.

Because of their fixation on numbers, the Chinese lead the world in Caesarean deliveries, which can be scheduled with much greater latitude than natural childbirth. Fully 50 percent of Chinese babies are born C-section, among the highest rates on Earth.

According to the news report, "On the advice of their feng shui masters, some women are opting for Caesareans up to two months earlier than their due date to give birth on a lucky day," such as the beginning of the Olympics.

In a country with a population of 1.3 billion and expanding, being a maternity ward scheduler in China has suddenly become the most powerful job in the country — like being the starter at Pebble Beach or the maitre d' at Sardi's. Especially this year.

Olympic birthing. It's the biggest unofficial Olympic event ever. It takes training, planning, scheduling and timing. If anybody wanted to invade China, this past Nov. 8 would have been the ideal time.

Americans don't have quite the fixation on numbers as the Chinese, but still, we have our moments.

I remember the summer of 1988 when Patti, who was married to my brother Dee, was pregnant. Her due date was Aug. 8 — 8-8-88, a date the Chinese would drool over.

Anyway, as the pregnancy progressed it looked like the due date might be the actual date. This got my brother fixated on how cool it would be to have a child born on 8-8-88.

Sure enough, like clockwork, Patti went into labor the morning of Aug. 8 and was rushed to a hospital in northern Virginia, where they were living at the time. Things were looking good.

But as the day wore on, the labor stalled. For hours nothing happened. Dee kept checking his watch.

As the clock got closer and closer to midnight, in sharp departure from the usual roles, it was the husband who appealed frantically to the doctor, "Can't we get this over with?"

It was at this point that Dee suggested two alternatives to letting nature run its course. One, they could go with a Caesarean delivery. Or two, they could get on an airplane and head west.

All these years later, my brother still remembers the glares he got — from the doctor and his wife.

"I kinda meant it though," he says.

Finally, midnight struck and the moment was gone. An hour and a half later little Katie, stretching and yawning and filing her nails, made her entrance into the world entirely on her own terms.

I've often wondered how Katie has felt about just missing being born on such a numerically significant date. She's in college now in San Diego so I rang up her cell phone for a comment. I got her voice mail and left a message.

She sure is taking her sweet time getting back to me.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.