Jamaa Birth Village | St. Louis Public Radio

Jamaa Birth Village

A Jamaa Birth Village client fills out paperwork to receive chiropractic care. March 4, 2019.
File Photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Mercy Health has agreed to pull midwifery services from a planned primary care clinic in Ferguson after a local midwife accused the health system of stealing her business and reneging on a care agreement.

Mercy announced in August plans to build a comprehensive health center in Ferguson that would include midwifery services. That announcement prompted Tru Kellman, the founder of the nearby Jamaa Birth Village, to accuse Mercy of poaching her business and breaking a care agreement.

Brittany "Tru" Kellman joined Friday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Since Brittany “Tru” Kellman started Jamaa Birth Village in 2015, she’s sought to provide a community-driven solution to an ongoing nationwide health issue: the racial disparities within pregnancy-related mortality rates. African American women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white peers.

For Kellman, who endured two cesarean sections and other challenges as a teen mom years ago, that work has been focused in Ferguson, Missouri, where she lives. But earlier this week, a letter published in the St. Louis American — and signed by many women of color who are leaders in the region — revealed a major controversy that’s been festering for months.

“As black women and Missourians who organize to dismantle reproductive oppression,” the letter began, “we write to express our outrage and demand accountability for the disrespect and unethical treatment of Missouri’s first black Certified Professional Midwife [Kellman] by Mercy Birthing Center Midwifery Care.”

Jamaa Birth Village Tru Kellman at the future site of the Jamaa Birthing Center in Ferguson.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

A Ferguson midwife and founder of a maternal health center that focuses on black women is accusing Mercy hospital of stealing her business and reneging on an agreement that would direct midwifery care in Ferguson to her clinic.

Tru Kellman, founder of Ferguson’s Jamaa Birth Village, said Jamaa agreed to train Mercy staff to administer culturally sensitive care. That agreement, reached in March, allowed for some Jamaa clients to use Mercy’s Birthing Center in Creve Coeur. 

April Thomas (left) and Cory Lampkin (right) visited Jamaa Birth Village with their daughter Addisonkori in March. March 4, 2019.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Brittany "Tru" Kellman sometimes starts her day two hours before Jamaa Birth Village opens at 10 a.m., stashing diapers and snacks for the dozens of people who will come through the Ferguson nonprofit’s doors. She gives everyone a hug when she meets them.

Jamaa is different from other pregnancy clinics. It provides care for women of color by women of color. After traumatic experiences as a teen mom, Kellman was determined to create a better alternative for black women.

“Creating Jamaa Birth Village is a kind of a re-creation of the type of care and support I gave myself when the system failed me,” said Kellman, the center’s founder.

After enduring two cesarean sections and other challenges as a teen mom herself, Ferguson resident Tru Kellman started Jamaa Birth Village in 2015 to provide a community-driven solution to a national health issue.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

“Considerable” is the word that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses to describe the racial disparities that currently surround pregnancy-related mortality rates in the U.S. With African-American women roughly three times more likely to die in childbirth than their white peers, “startling” might be another fitting descriptor.

And the difference “all boils down to systematic racism in varying degrees,” according to Tru Kellman, executive director of Jamaa Birth Village, a nonprofit pregnancy resource center that has served more than 300 women over the past three years.