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Inspiring Conversations with Elissa Holtry of Shooting Star Childbirth Services

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elissa Holtry.

Hi Elissa, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I was at year 14 in my military career and asking myself daily what I was going to do when I retired at 20 years. I had no strong ideas and figured I would do a job related to what the military had trained me to do in the computer/IT field, which I strongly disliked. At the time, I was pregnant with my third child and had a really great pregnancy, I made sure my other two children were involved as much as possible. They even had a helping hand in naming their sibling, they picked the name from two options I had narrowed down. Well, at 40ish weeks I went into labor and had my child with my doula, a doula-in-training, two midwives-in-training and one main midwife. My husband was stationed in a different state than I was and had to watch the birth over Skype. It was wonderful, I felt so supported despite my husband not being there. At the postpartum visit, my doula made a comment that I should get into birth work and I actually agreed this time. I was never in the same state long enough to use the same doula so I had different ones at each birth but my two other doula’s both said the same thing at their postpartum visits. Initially I thought, “oh, they say that to everyone” but once I heard it a third time, I knew fate was pounding on my door. So I did the work and became a doula!

Now six years after starting my doula career, having taught childbirth classes in three different states and overseas, I still enjoy it. There is something magical about watching the moment a person goes from “adult” to “parent”. It’s a look of shock mixed with relief and a huge dash of happiness. Most people just watch their baby in awe of the fact that their body created this new life! It was and still is a moment that no training program could ever prepare you for until you see it.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Starting my doula business was easy, it was getting clients that was difficult and even more difficult was getting to know other doulas! I noticed here in the US doula’s are not a well-known concept in some states and a few people were very much of the mind frame of “women have been having babies since forever, why would we need you?” Then once I explained why birthing people and their partners needed support, I saw the lightbulb go on and it was much easier for people to accept the idea and hire me as a doula. For myself, I had to accept the idea that birth was not going to go the way the birthing person wanted it to all the time. The books and training programs warn you of these times but until you’re in the moment, it’s just a few words on paper. However, the first time I experienced it as a doula, it was heart-wrenching. I saw the hopes of the birthing person get crushed by fate and medical interventions (some needed and some not) and there was nothing I could do but hold the birthing person and partner’s hand and talk to them afterward.

Yes, the ultimate goal is a healthy baby and birthing person but as a doula and mother myself, you need to have a positive view of your delivery or at the very least a strong understanding of why things turned out the way they did if everything went to hell in a handbasket.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am a labor and postpartum doula to people having babies. I do this work not because I have to but because I want to. I do a good amount of visits pre-baby so I can know my birthing parent really well. I like being able to help calm them without asking too many questions and knowing their likes & dislikes. I do many post-baby visits because I saw a fair number of my military buddies suffer from postpartum issues due to lack of support. When I started my business, I promised myself I would do more to help my birthing parent/s so they would not feel alone, unseen, overwhelmed or depressed. I spent a lot of time with my clients and as a result, they tend to keep in touch for a long time, I have clients who have become friends and we still visit even though their children are well over a year or three old! I’m happy to say being a doula is a “want” not a “need” so I can take fewer clients, attend to them and still spend oodles of time with my family.

Currently, I only take one client every three months and I have the ability to charge on a sliding scale so people who are less financially endowed can still have a doula without breaking the bank! I also barter for services because there are things I just don’t want to do or can’t do, like electrical work! I traded doula services for electrical work twice, the clients liked me so much when they became pregnant with a second child they hired me as their doula again.

I focus pretty heavily on making sure the birthing parent and partner feel supported, as in they have a plan for help at 0200 when the baby is crying constantly and won’t go to sleep. I check to make sure neither is feeling too much anger, sadness, or nothingness by asking questions and talking to them honestly about what to expect from parenthood. If I do have parents that are suffering, I give them resources to get help. I can’t make them go of course but I do always offer to accompany a parent if they are nervous about seeing a professional/specialist for extra care.

Of course, I attend labor! I help the clients wherever they want, at their home, birth center or hospital. The oddest place I was ever called to help was at a health expo in Pennsylvania. I was a vendor displaying my doula business and I had a pregnant person who was in early labor stop at my booth and asked for a bit of assistance until their support person could come and get them. We laughed at how fate how guided our meeting because the health expo had never had a doula as a vendor! For my clients, I go anywhere they need when they go into labor and stay for the entire labor and two-four hours after the birth of baby. Then I start my visits once they are discharged from the birth center or hospital. For home births, I come back 24hrs after the birth but am always available by phone, text, email or Zoom!

Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
Since Covid put a damper on seeing people in-person I learned I could do many of my visits over computer or phone and people felt more open to talk about issues they were having. I discovered I needed to conduct more phone calls vs texts and scheduled visits. I also discovered my youngest child can give a solid breastfeeding class. I was talking to a couple over Zoom about breastfeeding and forgot a word, my child popped in with the word and the next few things I was going to say! We were all surprised but my kid told me, “Don’t be shocked, I listen to what you say about babies. I love them! I want 5 of them.”

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Deborah CJ

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