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Congresswoman Cori Bush Testifies Before House Oversight and Government Reform Full Committee Hearing Examining America’s Black Maternal Health Crisis

May 6, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, testified before the committee as a single mom, nurse, activist, and Congresswoman to share her story and to demonstrate her commitment to protecting Black mothers, Black birthing people, Black babies, and to save Black lives. 

Across the United States, Black birthing people are at disproportionate risk of death and adverse health outcomes before, during, and after pregnancy. Black birthing people are three to four times more likely to experience pregnancy-related death than their white counterparts, and they experience higher rates of pregnancy complications, infant loss, and miscarriage across the board. Black babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately harmed Black people in the United States and worsened pre-existing health disparities.

WATCH

Testimony of Congresswoman Cori Bush
House Oversight and Reform Committee

Full Committee hearing entitled, “Birthing While Black:  Examining America’s Black Maternal Health Crisis”

May 6, 2021

First of all, let me just say that I think it is disgusting that we have colleagues on this hearing who won’t acknowledge Black women’s suffering, that there are stark differences in our pain, but...

St. Louis and I thank you, Chairwoman Maloney and Congresswoman Kelly, for your leadership in convening this all-important hearing. It is an honor to join my sisters-in-service Congresswomen Pressley, Underwood, and Adams as part of today’s panel. 

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. 

Thank you and I yield back.  

To watch and download the Congresswoman’s testimony, click here.

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Congresswoman Cori Bush represents Missouri’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She is also a Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a proud member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is a registered nurse, single mother, and an ordained pastor. Following the murder of Michael Brown Jr. by a now-terminated Ferguson police officer, she became a civil rights activist and community organizer fighting for justice for Black lives on the streets of Missouri and across the country.