Debbie Cox is a 25-year veteran of midwifery who has watched some things change and others remain the same — such as the wonder of birth.
Confetti didn’t rain from the ceiling when midwife Debbie Cox, CNM, delivered her 5,000th baby at Kaiser Permanente Antioch Medical Center on Aug. 31.
There was no note from the President or key to the city.
But for someone who loves her job, that wasn’t necessary.
She got the reward she gets every time: to witness the first meeting of mother and child.
“I consider it an honor to be part of that incredibly special event,” Cox said. “I am a person who likes and needs to help others, and birth is certainly a time when people are in need.”
From Engineer to Student Again
Cox didn’t set out in health care. In fact, she earned a master’s degree in environmental engineering from U.C. Berkeley, and worked in her field for five years. “But I was looking for something different,” she said.
Then a close friend invited Cox to be present for her home birth.
“I went through the classes with her and at the birth was amazed by the power of the body and the midwife’s role” Cox said. “So I decided to go back to school and start all over again.”
That was no small feat. Not only did she need to earn a second master’s degree, she did it while mothering two young children.
“I was in nursing school when my second child was born. I went back to class 10 days after the birth.”
Life as a Midwife
Starting in 1991, Cox worked at what is now Summit Medical Center before transferring to Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek the following year.
“It was a very new department, but I knew a number of the midwives — including the woman who had delivered my babies — and I really wanted to work within a group.”
Over the years, Cox has seen changes that include the pendulum swing between natural birth and epidural-assisted, the rise of female ob-gyns, and the growth from six to 24 midwives within her own department.
She’s also been around to crack a few myths. For example, midwifery is not synonymous with natural birth.
“My goal is for the woman to be happy and to have the best birth experience she can have, whatever that looks like to her.”
Babies, Babies, Babies!
Cox works part-time these days to have time with her husband. When she retires, she’ll volunteer for environmental causes and enjoy her two “babies.” They represent her life’s dual passions: Her son is a physician at UCSF and her daughter works for the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.
One may wonder how Cox knew she had delivered her 5,000th baby, especially since in the 17 years she served as Chief of Midwives she kept track of midwives at two hospitals and seven clinics while delivering up to six babies a day herself.
“It’s the engineer in me,” she said. “I’m a data collector. I have three little journals full of the times, dates, gestation — but never the names, for privacy. I always sat down at the end of a shift and entered the births.”
She has delivered babies for friends, colleagues, and now their daughters, her children’s teachers, and two neighbors. “That is wonderful because I have a special bond with those four kids on my block as I watch them grow up.”
When it came time for the 5,000th delivery, Cox gave the mother a cap her own mother once knit and decorated it with an embroidered “5,000” — a special keepsake from a dedicated midwife to her milestone baby.