Over the last few years, Jamaa Birth Village has instilled new hope for pregnant Black women across the St. Louis region, where the county’s maternal death rate is 37% higher than the national average.
Based in Ferguson, the epicenter of today’s civil right movement and the movement for Black Lives, Jamaa Birth Village does the sacred work of providing life-giving care to pregnant women who are often subjected to the compounding environmental stressors and health system bias that drives the St. Louis region’s maternal health disparities.
The birthing village is a literal dream come true for Brittany “Tru” Kellman, certified professional midwife and the founding executive director of Jamaa Birth Village. After Tru endured two traumatic birthing experiences, during which she was dismissed and disregarded by her doctors, she was determined to build a safe space for Black women to receive respectful, compassionate, and culturally congruent care.
Established in 2015, in the living room of her Ferguson home, Tru provided birth education and doula training to women who were looking for tools to support and advocate for themselves and others when it came to receiving care for their pregnant bodies and their babies. From there Jamaa moved into a temporary home until a former Ferguson physician had donated his building to the birth village ushering in new possibilities for the facility.
On Juneteenth, 2020, what started as a vision for better care for pregnant Black women became a groundbreaking reality for the region as Jamaa Birth Village opened its doors as the first Equal Access Midwifery Clinic in St. Louis.
The success story of Jamaa Birth Village does not end there. This Black History Month, Jamaa Birth Village is entering a partnership with Generate Health, which focuses primarily on advancing racial equity in pregnancy outcomes, family wellbeing, and community health.
Together, the partnership is launching the St. Louis 360 Doulas Initiative.
Doulas are trained, non-clinical support persons who provide physical, mental, and informational support to people in various stages in their pregnancy. The role of the doula is ancient but in recent years has become a trending topic as the United States’ maternal and infant mortality rate for Black women steadily increases.
Research shows that doula care improves childbirth outcomes, quality of care received, and promotes cost savings. In a state that has the seventh highest maternal mortality rate, the St. Louis 360 Doulas Initiative is long overdue.
This initiative scales up the local doula movement by training 360 culturally congruent doulas and increasing wraparound support capacity available to pregnant women. The St. Louis Doula of Color Collective will bolster the efforts of the St. Louis 360 Doulas Initiative by providing mentorship and continuous professional development to support the newly trained doulas who will be working in the community.
The project, funded by Merck for Mothers and Yellow Chair Foundation, will designate St. Louis a “Safer Childbirth City” by closing the divide between community-centered solutions and medical system services and restructuring the entire maternal care ecosystem to center the needs of Black women and birthing people during prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum periods.
In addition to changing the maternal health care landscape, the project seeks to change the way support and care is provided to different populations.
Jamaa – which means “family” in Swahili, is committed to training doulas who truly reflect the community in which it serves. This includes making the intentional effort to train doulas from the LGBTQ communities, particularly prioritizing trans populations as they are often overlooked when considering pregnancy-related disparities and birth in general, and Indigenous doulas.
Indigenous populations have a maternal death rate that exceeds that of Black women yet is often not included in national data.
This approach to caring for the community once again demonstrates the lengths in which Black women go to save our community and a sector of our public health out of a commitment to self-preservation, and our region is better because of it.
Doula training will begin in April and will carry on once a month over the next two years. There will be a limited number of scholarships available each month for applicants who need financial assistance.
For more information or to register for one of Jamaa Birth Village’s doula trainings, visit the website https://jamaabirthvillage.org/ or contact them directly at 314-643-7703.
Brittany Ferrell RN, MPH is a Nursing Science Ph.D. student at Goldfarb School of Nursing, Chair of Jamaa Birth Village, and a member of The St. Louis American Editorial board