How Jamarah Amani fights for birth justice in Miami

After giving birth to her second child 17 years ago with the help of a doctor, Jamarah Amani recognized that hospitals often traumatize pregnant women.

That epiphany led her to pursue a career making birth a more sacred experience, for Black mothers in particular.

“I had this calling to become a midwife,” Amani said. “It was very strong. I would have dreams about it.”

For the past two decades, she has been building a movement for birth justice, an effort she describes as her life’s work. As a midwife and activist, she’s been able to help more women of color in her community give birth with joy.

“Hospitals are killing people,” said Amani. “We need to change the hospital. We have this perception in our society that labor is just so painful, but a lot of that is because of interventions (in hospitals) that are unnecessary. Normal physiologic birth doesn’t break your body.”

Amani is the executive director of the Southern Birth Justice Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide accessible midwifery care to marginalized communities. She dedicates her days to being a midwife, writing grants and running programs for the organization, and training both doulas and midwives.

In 2011, three years after it was founded by Amani’s mentor, Becky Strouse, the network began teaching childbirth education classes for pregnant and parenting young people at Cope Center North, a school in West Little River. After hearing about mothers being pushed out of the hospital too soon and other horror stories, the organization decided that teaching childbirth education was not enough.

The next step was to train doulas, particularly those of color, and send them to hospitals so they could advocate for healthier pregnancies and check on mothers postpartum. A vocational program at Cope Center North to train more doulas and moms who were interested in the practice was also established.

In 2019, the network hosted a panel where mothers spoke about the abuses they had endured in many places, particularly at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

“These moms said to us, ‘We need to change Jackson,’” said Amani.

In 2021, she hosted a press conference to publicize the problems of giving birth at Jackson. The conference garnered local coverage and soon after, she received a phone call from Jackson’s department of labor and delivery, which led to discussions about possible changes at the hospital.

“We started educating them,” said Amani. “We invited some of their Jackson staff to our doula training.”

The Miami Birth Justice Initiative, which sprouted from the network, was awarded a three-year grant of almost $1 million in 2023 to provide training for 80% of Jackson’s providers, residents, attending nurses and anyone who deals with birthing at the hospital.

That was an important accomplishment, says Amani, but there’s still much work to be done.

“What we hope is that this will lead to an improvement of outcomes,” she said. “We’ll see less morbidity, less mortality, more sacredness, more joy, more compassion. That just leads to stronger families – and that leads to stronger communities.”