The cry of a new baby entering the world is beautiful. A new life just took its first breath. But for Okunsola Amadou, she’s thinking about the new baby and the mother. What’s the woman’s state of mind? What kind of care does she need now that the baby is here?
As the first Black-certified midwife in the state of Missouri, Okunsola is a specialist in the prenatal, delivery and postpartum experience for women. Having had several negative birth experiences herself, she knows firsthand that when it comes to this kind of care for Black women, it’s slim pickings. In looking to provide a safe space for Jamaa, which in Swahili means 'family,' Okunsola found her mission and life’s work. And that’s how Jamaa Birth Village came to fruition—a maternal health organization located in Ferguson, Missouri, serving the greater St. Louis metro area.
In 2018, Okunsola looked to find a home for the Jamaa Birth Village. With the help of donations and her capital campaign called “60k in 60 days," Okunsola quickly experienced the generosity of her community, and how great the need for quality prenatal/postpartum care was. She quickly surpassed her goal with more than $70,000 raised.
Then CannonDesign was fortunate to play a part in this vision. Through our Open Hand Studio, we helped Okunsola renovate the building her main clinic is now housed in. The renovated building is filled with purple, representing not only the color for midwives but also a prominent color for African culture and heritage. Amethyst crystals are scattered across the clinic. Everything in this space promotes relaxation and therapeutic healing.
People who come to Jamaa automatically feel a sense of relief, and most importantly, I’ve seen a lot of hope and joy. We’ve had people cry because they just can’t believe a center like this exists.Okunsola Amadou Founder/CEO of Jamaa Birth Village
When it comes to maternal health for Black women, the data paints a harrowing picture. The Population Business Bureau says Black women are three times more likely to die in pregnancy and postpartum than white women. That’s a harsh statistic that Okunsola wasn’t surprised to see, which is why her mission holds heavy weight on her heart.
And the mission continues to grow—with Jamaa Birth Village now moving forward to create a postpartum retreat haven.
“Your average birth center in this country does not allow for postpartum healing,” said Okunsola. “In fact, the United States is the only developed nation with such a high disproportionate rate of negative birth outcomes, and it impacts Black women at a greater rate. And most Black women who do die from childbirth, they die within the first week. Most of the time between day three and seven.”
Through a $1 million grant, Okunsola has acquired an adjoining property that is a block away from the current Jamaa Birth Village. Her vision is simple: Turn this property into small hut-like structures that allow moms and their families to be cared for up to a week past the birth.
And once again, CannonDesign is thrilled to be part of the journey. This time, we're working with St. Louis-based members of our Inclusive Partner Program to collectively design the new retreat.
Once complete, the birthing center will be 5,000-6,000 square feet, with several postpartum retreat huts, three water birth suites and a greenhouse/wellness garden, all within walking distance from the Jamaa Birth Village clinic. The retreat huts will allow women to receive full spectrum holistic pregnancy and birth care and then one week postpartum where they can rest and heal.
The new retreat is going to rebuild trust in the medical system, which is huge. And it's going to rebuild trust from a community-based perspective because the harm was caused to us by the institution and by the system.Okunsola Amadou Founder/CEO of Jamaa Birth Village
About the author: Hillary Simon is a writer and media content specialist based in CannonDesign's Chicago office.