Bush’s first son was born at 23 weeks and she was told “he had a zero percent chance of life” after she says her doctor ignored her earlier concerns

By Julie Mazziotta
May 07, 2021 02:04 PM
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Cori Bush
Cori Bush
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush shared that she nearly lost both of her children during her pregnancies in an emotional testimony during Congressional hearings on the issue of Black maternal health.

The representative from St. Louis, Missouri served as her own witness during the hearing, called by the House Committee on Oversight Reform to examine how racism in health care affects Black maternal health, as she talked about the concerns that went ignored by her doctors as she carried her son and daughter.

Bush, 44, said that 21 years earlier she was waiting in her doctor's office at 5 months pregnant and saw a sign that said: "If you feel like something is wrong, something is wrong. Tell your doctor," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. But when Bush told her doctor she had intense abdominal pain, she said he brushed it off, and told her, "Oh no, you're fine. You're fine. Go home, and I'll see you next time."

Her son Zion was born a week later, just 23 weeks into her pregnancy, weighing barely over a pound.

"His ears were still in his head. His eyes were still fused shut. His fingers were smaller than rice, and his skin was translucent," Bush, a former nurse, said. "… We were told he had a zero percent chance of life."

After a month on a ventilator and four months in intensive care, Zion survived and is now 21 years old. And when Bush became pregnant again just a few months later, her doctor admitted that he had pushed off her concerns and convinced her to stick with him.

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Sixteen weeks into her second pregnancy, Bush again went into early labor and another doctor at the hospital said that the baby would be lost and wasn't worth trying to save.

"I said, 'No, you have to do something,'" she recalled. "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.' "

Out of frustration, Bush's sister, who was with her, threw a chair down the hallway. After the nurses ran in they called Bush's doctor, who gave her a cervical cerclage, a stitch in the cervix to prevent early delivery. Bush's daughter Angel was later born healthy and is now 20 years old.

"This is what desperation looks like. That chair flying down a hallway," Bush said in her testimony. "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."

Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during childbirth than white, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander women, and more likely to experience pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, experience infant loss or have miscarriages. And the disparity is even higher in Missouri, where Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.