The body whisperer who is also a baby whisperer – Q+A with Julie Sickel, RMT and Doula
When local RMT, Julie Sickel, was working at Pemberton Valley Wellness, I used to say she had x-rays in her fingertips. She could have conversations with my body in a language I was not fluent in, angling right into hotspots and knots as if she could see through my skin. Then, she went a-wandering, and now she’s back, massaging and working as a doula, which was the perfect opportunity to find how having x-ray fingers, and training in myofascial, visceral, sports, Thai and alternative therapies, can help women in labor.
You were Pemberton’s favorite most in-demand massage therapist and then you disappeared. Where you been, lady?
It’s funny. Everyone seems to think I dropped off the face of the earth. All I did was take some time off and I decided to go traveling. I went to Southeast Asia for three months. I traveled through Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. While I was there I took a Thai massage course. And learned the tsunami protocol, which is sit on a hill with a beer and wait it out!
After I came back from Asia, I went to visit family in Ontario. I just became an auntie for the first time and went to spend time with my niece and help out. I was going to be their Doula but she had other ideas and came a month early!
You’re now at Kula Wellness 2 days a week. What else are you up to? Where else can people find you?
This summer I’ve been back working with Harmony Massage Therapy, a mobile massage business in Whistler. Kula Wellness just opened a beautiful, tranquil new room and I am there Tuesdays and Thursdays. Otherwise I’ve been just trying to get out and about hiking lots and letting people know I’m back in town.
What different modalities of bodywork do you incorporate into your practice?
I try to incorporate a multitude of modalities in my treatments. I have taking training in pregnancy massage, myofascial release techniques, visceral, muscle energy, and a small amount of craniosacral, and most recently Thai massage. I am a certified infant massage instructor and a Doula or Labor Support Provider. I also tend to use a lot of stretching, positional release therapy, and movement therapy with my massages.
The X-rays in your fingertips seemed to be able to see into my body. How does a massage therapist “communicate” with a patient/client?
Honestly, I feel it takes years for a therapist to learn to read the body. We are continually learning with every person. The more people you see, the greater the knowledge you store away for future reference and comparison. I am an extremely visual person, so when I am treating I am visualizing all the tissues that are under my fingers. I work with layers and melt through each one until I get to where I need to be. Sometimes I can access that tissue right away, other times the body takes me on a winding trail, directing me all over the body. You learn to read the body with ‘soft eyes’. Once you learn proper posture and the body’s anatomically correct movement patterns, you see the anomalies when it’s functioning in an altered state. As a RMT we are taught testing for the body. That enables us to identify structures/areas that are injured or rule out others that are not. It’s an overall picture of all the systems of the body and how they are functioning with each other. The way the therapist takes that knowledge and integrates it into their treatment depends on the person’s needs.
Birth is such an amazing experience. Being able to help a mother through that experience and make it as positive and as empowering as possible is a truly humbling and exhilarating thing.
What is doula-ing, anyway?
As a birth doula, I accompany women in labor to help ensure a safe and satisfactory birth experience. I draw on my professional training, knowledge and experience to provide emotional support, physical comfort and, as needed, communication to the staff to make sure that the mother and father have the information needed to make informed decisions as they arise in labor. I can provide reassurance and perspective to the mother and her partner, make suggestions for labor progression, and help with relaxation, massage, positioning and other techniques for comfort. As a Doula, I am working for the mother, not as your caregiver or for the hospital.
How many babies have you helped welcome into the world?
I have attended 5 births, and missed probably another 7 (due to location, or schedules). And I don’t know how many pregnant women I have treated that I have provided information to about birth techniques, and pregnancy/labour/postpartum suggestions.
What is that moment like?
To see the love, pride, strength, fatigue, pain, hope, fear, power and awe a laboring mother has all in that final moment and the journey leading up to it in which a new little person comes into this world is amazing.
The tranquility after while they hold their son/daughter is serene.
Is this doula practice a new thing for you?
No, I have been a Doula since I moved here. I just wasn’t very good at promoting it!
What’s the synergy between massage and labor support? Is it common?
I know quite a few women who are RMTs and are also Doulas. But there are many Doulas who are not – some may have a medical background , others don’t but receive the information through the course to become one. Either way a Doula utilizes massage for almost every stage of labor.
You also do infant massage instruction. What’s that?
I teach parents a general full body massage for their baby. If their infant has a specific condition we can create a massage treatment plan they can do at home. It has a number of major benefits like helping to stimulate the development of various systems of the body, it relieves stress for both infant and the parent, increases bonding, provides sensory stimulation, which is necessary for growth and development, helps facilitate motor coordination, relieves colic and gas, helps regulate sleep patterns, strengthen the immune system.
It also creates communication between the infant and the parent – it increases awareness of infant cues, helps parents respond to infant needs and helps the baby feel increased trust and security when the contact is reassuring and pleasurable.
Both massage and doula work seem very giving and demanding jobs. How do you recharge your energy to ensure you’re not drained from giving, giving, giving all the time?
I try to get regular treatments for myself. When I’m “on it’ I incorporate yoga and meditation into my daily routine. I do a lot of hiking, biking, camping, snowboarding, anything outdoors! Then when I feel I just need a little more I just go travel.
It’s a beautiful place and reminds me slightly of home. I grew up in a small town so it feels comfortable here. Plus you just can’t beat the scenery!
What kind of services are you offering to the community there at Kula?
The good old ‘Julie massage’ as people would say. People can expect the same time, treatment and care they always received from me. I am focusing on promoting my Doula care. And this winter I am taking further education in the childbirth educator’s field.
Are you booked out already? How can people book in to see you?
Nope, pretty quiet! People can book to see me by contacting Kula Wellness in Pemberton. Telephone # 604-698-8878. Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org We are looking into online booking at Kula so we will keep posted.
Harmony Massage Therapy in Whistler can be booked by calling 604-938-2902 or online at whistlermobilemassage.com
What do you most like about winter in Pemby?
That you can sit outside and hear nothing but the snowfall blanketing the mountains. And that every snow activity is within minutes, and every bar has après!