St. Louis congresswoman describes nearly losing two babies

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ST. LOUIS — A congressional committee examining the Black maternal health crisis heard emotional testimony from one of the committee’s own members. Democrat Cori Bush of St. Louis on Thursday described how she nearly lost the lives of her two children two decades ago, when both were born prematurely.

The hearing in Washington was called by the House Committee on Oversight Reform to examine how racism in health care affects disparities in Black maternal mortality. Black women giving birth in the U.S. are nearly three times more likely to experience pregnancy-related death than their white counterparts, and experience higher rates of pregnancy complications, infant loss and miscarriage.

This is a transcript of Bush’s testimony released by her office:

“I sit here before you as a mother, a single mother of two. 

Zion, my eldest child was born at 23 weeks gestation, versus what is considered a normal pregnancy at 40 weeks. When I was early in my pregnancy with him, I didn’t think there could even be a possibility that there could be a complication. I became sick during my pregnancy. I had hyperemesis gravidarum which was severe nausea and vomiting. I was constantly throwing up for the first 4 months of my pregnancy. 

Around 5 months, I went to see my doctor for a routine prenatal visit. As I was sitting in the doctor’s office, I noticed a picture on the wall that said: ‘If you feel like something is wrong, something is wrong. Tell your doctor.’

I felt like something was wrong, so that’s what I did. I told my doctor. I told her that I was having severe pains, and she said, ‘Oh no you’re fine. You’re fine. Go home and I’ll see you next time.’

So that’s what I did. I went home.

One week later, I went into preterm labor. At 23 weeks my son was born. One pound, three ounces. His ears were still in his head, his eyes were still fused shut, his fingers were smaller than rice, and his skin was translucent. A Black baby, translucent skin─ you could see his lungs. He could fit within the palm of my hand. 

We were told he had a zero percent chance of life. 

The Chief of Neonatal Surgery happened to be in the hospital that morning and saw my case on the surgical board and she decided to try to resuscitate him.  

It worked and for the first month of his life, Zion was on a ventilator fighting to live. For 4 months he was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

The doctor who delivered my son apologized. She said, “You were right, and I didn’t listen to you. Give me another chance.” Two months later, I was pregnant again. So, I went back to her. 

At 16 weeks, I went for an ultrasound at the clinic and saw a different doctor who was working that day. I found out, again, I was in preterm labor. 

The doctor told me that the baby was going to abort. 

I said, ‘No, you have to do something.’ But he was adamant, and he said, ‘Just go home. Let it abort. You can get pregnant again because that’s what you people do.’

My sister Kelli was with me. We didn’t know what to do after the doctor left. So, we saw a chair, my sister picked up the chair and she threw it down the hallway. Nurses came running from everywhere to see what was wrong. 

A nurse called my doctor and she put me on a stretcher. The next morning my doctor came in and placed a cerclage on my uterus and I was able to carry my baby. My daughter, my Angel, who is now 20 years old. My son, who was saved, is now 21 years old. 

This is what desperation looks like. That chair flying down a hallway. This is what being your own advocate looks like. Every day Black women are subjected to harsh and racist treatment during pregnancy and childbirth. Every day Black women die because the system denies our humanity. It denies us patient care. 

I sit before you today as a single mom, as a nurse, as an activist, and as a Congresswoman, and I am committed to doing the absolute most to protect Black mothers. To protect Black babies. To protect Black birthing people. And to save lives.”

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