Sixteen years and one week ago, I gave birth to my oldest son. I had spent the evening experimenting with pumpernickel dough, trying to find the secret of dark, crusty loaves.The break was finished and labor began.

When it was time to go the hospital, my husband carried the suitcase, which had been packed for weeks, and I carried a bag with the freshly baked loaves, fearing that otherwise they would go to waste while my husband divided the next week between the school library (it was exam time) and the hospital.

Dawn was breaking and the streets were empty. So were the hospital labor rooms. In those days, natural childbirth was considered radical enough that students, interns and nurses gathered to watch the process. One student nurse spent the next several hours doing nothing but holding my hand. My husband tried to administer all the comforts our childbirth coach had taught, but he was being crowded out by medical personnel.

I was ready for this baby, long awaited. My body was ready. But the baby was not quite ready. He had some shifting and turning to do.

At some point between contractions, I told the doctor about my homemade bread. He sent somebody for coffee and jam and several breakfast to everyone -- which only increased the crowd. I could tell it was a warm and happy occasion. What I could feel was another matter. Motherhood was not coming easy.

My doctor sat beside me and offered me sips of coffee. I didn't want to disappoint all those enthusiastic interns and nurses. I didn't want to let down this doctor who had spent hours training me, or my husband, who had practiced breathing with me for months. And I didn't want to set back the cause of natural childbirth.

But finally I admitted it to my doctor: "This is tougher than I expected."

Dr. Hoffman patted my hand reassuringly. "Homemade bread usually is."