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Bush testifies before Congress about racist treatment Black birthing people face during childbirth, pregnancy

Bush testifies before Congress about racist treatment Black birthing people face during childbirth, pregnancy
© Bonnie Cash

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) testified before Congress on Thursday about the “racist treatment” she said she and other Black people have experienced in the health care system during childbirth and pregnancy.

The moment came as the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing examining the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis faced by Black birthing people, a gender inclusive term that encompasses all who give birth, in the nation.

During her testimony, Bush, a nurse and mother of two, opened up about her personal experience in which said she had to be her “own advocate” while trying to receive medical care in the past after voicing problems to her doctors about serious health issues that went unaddressed. 

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The congresswoman first detailed her pregnancy with her eldest child, Zion, who she said “was born at 23 weeks gestation versus what is considered a normal pregnancy of 40 weeks.” 

“When I was early in my pregnancy with him, I didn't think that there could even be a possibility that there could be a complication,” she said. 

But Bush said she later became “sick” during her pregnancy. She said suffered from “hyperemesis gravidarum,” or severe nausea and vomiting, and was “constantly throwing up for the first four months of my pregnancy.” 

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“Around five 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,’” Bush said. “I felt like something was wrong so I, 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,’ ” Bush recalled.

A week later, Bush said she went into pre-term labor.

“At 23 weeks, my son was born, one pound three ounces,” Bush said. “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 can see his lungs. He could fit within the palm of my hand.” 

“We were told he had a zero percent chance of life,” Bush testified.

“The chief of neonatal surgery happens 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 him for the first month of his life as I was on a ventilator fighting to live. For four months he was in the neonatal care unit,” she said.

Bush said the doctor who delivered her son, who is now 21, apologized to her, telling her, “You were right and I didn't listen to you, give me another chance.”

The congresswoman said she was pregnant two months later and went back to the same doctor. 

“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,” she said. “The doctor told me that the baby was going to abort.”

“I said, ‘No, you have to do something,’ ” she recalled. “But he was adamant. He said, ‘Just go home, let it abort, you can get pregnant again because that's what you people do.’ ” 

At the time, Bush said she and her sister, who was with her then, “didn’t know what to do after the doctor left.” 

“So, we saw a chair sitting in the hallway. My sister picked up the chair and she threw it down the hallway,” she said. “Nurses came running from everywhere to see what was wrong. A nurse called my doctor, and she put me on a stretcher.”

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“The next morning my doctor came in and placed the cerclage on my uterus and I was able to carry my baby, my daughter, my angel who is now 20 years old,” Bush said.

“This is what desperation looks like: that chair flying down the hallway. This is what being your own advocate looks like. Everyday black women are subjected to harsh and racist treatment during pregnancy and childbirth. Everyday black women die because the system denies our humanity. It denies us patient care,” she said.

“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,” Bush added. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are more than three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

While the CDC has said the majority of pregnancy-related deaths can be prevented, the agency says on its website that racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related deaths have continued to persist over time. 

Lawmakers have introduced legislation in recent months seeking to combat health inequities faced by Black women people in the nation.

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On Thursday, Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyHouse Republicans introduce resolution to censure the 'squad' Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias House candidate in Chicago says gun violence prompted her to run MORE (D-Mass.) announced that she and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerZombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Rand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why Absences force Senate to punt vote on Biden nominee MORE (D-N.J.) also since re-introduced the Mommies Act “to expand Medicaid coverage for birthing people & promote community-based, holistic approaches to maternity care.” 

“Every pregnant person should be listened to and treated with dignity and respect during and after childbirth,” she tweeted.