Jamaa Birth Village

Jamaa Birth Village baby Markari Myton and family celebrate the grand opening of the Equal Access Midwifery Clinic. Joined by grandmother Stacey Myton, midwife and executive director Brittany Tru Kellman, mother Myrina Otey, father Kwame Myton, and brother Stephen Mitchell.

Photo by TJ's Photography

The COVID-19 pandemic halted the grand opening of Jamaa Birth Village’s Equal Access Midwifery Clinic in Ferguson from April to a date that is culturally more apropos, on Juneteenth. The clinic represents freedom for low-risk women and their families to choose how they want to give birth.

Certified Midwife Brittany Tru Kellman, executive director of the Jamaa Birth Village, invited socially distanced and masked guests to the June 19 grand opening at their new location 40 N. Florissant Rd. as many others joined via a video stream of the event. She said a health clinic has been at that location for decades in Ferguson and the building was gifted to them to continue to serve the needs of women in the community.

“It was owned by Dr. Donald Blum and he had a practice there for many years,” Kellman said. After Blum retired, he leased it to SSM until January 2018, which is when Jamaa found out about the location. “Later, Dr. Blum donated the clinic to us.”

Kellman said Jamaa represents a reclaiming of community midwifery care as activism. She sees Jamaa  as a lifesaving mission and as a revolutionary transformation to enhance inner value, wellness and the ability to choose care that doesn’t include bias and racism from oppressive care models that can lead to preventable morbidity and mortality.

Clients who receive prenatal care there have a range of options for their pregnancy and birthing experience.

“Our Equal Access Midwifery Clinic serves as a space to provide care for women who are low risk; meaning that they don’t have any active health complications where they need to be seen by a high-risk provider, which would be an obstetrician or a maternal fetal medicine doctor,” Kellman said. “We provide midwifery care in the prenatal and postpartum period; we also provide doula care services. Everything that we do is wraparound – once you sign up for midwifery care, you automatically get enrolled in these other programs.” She said women can opt out of any service.

Women automatically get a doula, who assists women during prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum.

“In our clinic, women have an option of delivering at any location. So, they can choose to deliver at home, having a home birth with myself or one of the other two midwives that we work with at our clinic; they can choose to just go to the hospital,” Kellman said. “Then they can also choose to say that they want to deliver at one of the area birthing centers. And that means that they have to transfer over their care towards the end of their pregnancy to do so.”

Kellman said most of the women served at Jamaa choose to deliver at home or at the hospital. Jamaa’s holistic approach focuses on the body and the mind.

“We also provide mental health care counseling on site, and it’s not just for women who are displaying PMADs, which is prenatal mood and anxiety disorders. Everyone sees a counselor. Even if they say, ‘I feel great, I think I’m fine,’ we want to provide preventative care services, because we know that black women are more susceptible to having postpartum depression and psychosis and anxiety,” Kellman said. “We do that in a way to formulate a plan to make sure she has a good support system to prevent those issues.”

Community health workers assist mothers in staying on track with family and career goals.

“They are automatically enrolled with a community health worker, which helps them to navigate their family lives and career goals and their economic stability. We have that program to really combat social determinants of health that have been created by our racist system,” Kellman said. “The community health worker will work with them in providing a two-year goal, to make sure they have good, safe housing; that they’re making an equitable wage if they are able to work or want to work; to make sure their career goals align with what they want to do and where they want to be; and to make sure the family has access to safe food and drinking water, transportation and other things that are really important.”

In addition to addressing mental health, mothers learn about lactation and breastfeeding. “Lactation helps them provide a successful plan of feeding, whether it’s formula or nursing, so that they don’t give up and that they don’t make mistakes – like adding too much water in the milk or other things.”

Kellman said these components help mothers have full-term births and healthy weight babies. The mothers also learn about the importance of bonding with their infant.

“A lot of women who are stressed and overwhelmed don’t know, or don’t even have the time to bond with their new babies – it’s more like a responsibility,” Kellman said.

The clinic’s holistic therapy for the women includes a massage therapist, pampering and self-care techniques, and chiropractic care – which helps adjust the body post-trauma. Kellman said these are services that women who are marginalized or of lower incomes do not get to access.

“We have a spa therapy space at the clinic,” she said. “It really helps women who are in their pre-conception phase or in their postpartum phase to really heal the body and release toxicity and stress that can prevent proper healing or prevent fertility.”

Kellman said her Equal Access Midwifery Clinic is the first in the state to offer such comprehensive services to address the wellbeing of women.

Opening the midwifery clinic during the pandemic meant taking additional precautions and rethinking how the space would be used. They changed the doors so clients would not have to touch knobs and once inside, there is a cleansing table to use sanitizer before entering the main reception area.

“We also have sage spray and Florida water because these are spiritual, cultural things we use to keep our energy and our mental and emotional health well. So, people can use those things to ground themselves” to de-stress and be fully present, she said. “All of our staff members have masks; all of our clients have masks. They will be given masks if they don’t, but you are required to wear masks in the clinic in order to be seen.”

The clinic offers childbirth education, a mother and baby donation closet and an organic community garden. “They get to learn how to garden, and  grow and harvest crops,” she said, “ and we have a nutrition classroom, so that these women can learn how to cook for themselves in a wholesome, healthy way, and take some skills with them, where they can continue that work at home.”

The midwifery clinic is funded by grants as well as diverse individual support.

“Outside of grants and donations, we do charge for our services. We do offer a sliding scale and pro bono care options, but there is still a fee, but we don’t turn anyone away,” Kellman said. “We are also able to bill for private insurance.”

As in the midwifery clinic’s name, “equal access” to Jamaa means every expectant or parenting woman, no matter her income, ability to pay, zip code, employment or insurance status, will receive the same access and  availability to care, providers and resources as any other pregnant woman who doesn’t have barriers.

“Whether you pay or not will not change the care that you get,” Kellman said. “Our clinic personnel will never know what person paid and what person didn’t, and we have it set up that way so that nobody is treated different and that we’ll eliminate that economic bias.”

Kellman said a number of inquiries have been made to Jamaa over the last month or two, by women looking for alternatives to birthing in hospitals. Some of those referrals are coming from surprising sources.

“Actually, lot of people were told by their providers to call us, and this has never happened before,” Kellman said. “Before, when women were like, ‘I want a natural birth, I want a home birth,’ they would be ridiculed and chastised by their providers – ‘This is crazy, this is insane…’ all this crap. And as soon as the pandemic hit, ‘Oh, you should call Jamaa Birth Village.’

“We’ve been telling y’all all this time, and now, we’re the solution. We’ve been the solution.”

For more information, call 314-643-7703, check social media or visit JamaaBirthVillage.org.

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