Catching up with U.S. House of Representative Cori Bush, on Mother’s Day, a reflective dialogue

Every day, Black mothers, birthing people, and our babies die because our doctors don’t believe our pain.

Content warning: This email contains mentions of medical racism and pregnancy trauma.

Cori Bush

I’m 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.

I had hyperemesis gravidarum which was severe nausea and vomiting for the first four months of my pregnancy. Around five months, I went to see my doctor for a routine prenatal visit. As I was sitting in the doctor’s office I saw a sign “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.”

I went home and one week later, I went into preterm labor. At 23 weeks, my son was born one pound 23 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 0% 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 decided to try and resuscitate him. It worked, and for the first month of his life, Zion was on a ventilator fighting to live. For four months, he was in the neonatal 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.” 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. In desperation, my sister picked up a chair and threw it down the hallway. Nurses came running everywhere to see what’s wrong. A nurse called my doctor and she put me on a stretcher. The next morning my doctor finally came in, placed a cerclage on my uterus, and I was able to carry my baby — my daughter, my Angel, who is now 20 years old.

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

I’m writing to you as a single mom, as a nurse, as an activist, and as a Congresswoman committed to doing the absolute most to protect Black mothers, to protect black babies, to protect Black birthing people, and to save lives.

Thanks for reading, Cori Bush.

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