As a traditional Malay post-birth masseuse, Madam Tina Juno helps new mothers recover more quickly. She takes pride in making life a little more comfortable for them.
Watching 57-year-old Madam Tina Juno deftly move her fingers, releasing the knots in her customers’ muscles and preparing the post-birth wrap for her postpartum clients, one would never think she had ever lacked the confidence to perform a massage.
Madam Tina had personally benefitted from the traditional Malay postnatal wrap and massage in her postpartum days. She testifies to how it helped reduce the discomfort of flatulence and also helped her slim down faster.
Madam Tina recalled that it was while looking for a job in 1998 that she chanced upon an advertisement in the newspaper and decided to try out a job as a masseuse. She remembers her early days as a masseuse, where work was a huge challenge and the thought of performing a massage frightened her. She was partly uncomfortable with touching other people, and partly worried she would cause her customers pain.
Her foray into the industry began at the Sri Bayu Spa in Serangoon. The spa offered her a week of training – teaching her the basics techniques of massage and scrubs as well as how to prepare the post-birth ginger wrap. The wrap, tied round a woman’s abdomen, is said to have many benefits – it can reduce water retention, firm up the abdominals and “push the organs back into place” – making it a popular feature of the post-birth massage process.
Madam Tina Juno with the bengkung wrap used for post-natal binding. Image Source: Fiona Liaw
But for the first three months, Madam Tina only dared to help out with the cleaning at the spa. She followed her trainer around to observe how massages were done, but did not feel confident about performing one on her own.
It was only after much persuasion that she conducted her first regular massage – and although the customer had no complaints, she remained doubtful about her abilities.
Madam Tina said: “I was so scared! Especially for a pregnant lady, the belly is so big, how to massage? Or when they’ve just given birth? My boss said to be gentle, but I was scared I would be too rough or too hard.”
She remembers wanting to give up, but says her mother’s encouragement kept her going. “My ibu had confidence in me… she kept saying I should be able to do it, so don’t give up and keep on going.”
Her boss even went as far as offering to let her test her skills on him, but her fear of failure was too great.
“I was so nervous! My hands were shaking so much! He was my boss! What if I did not do it well?” she exclaims.
She recalled the day it all changed: unbeknownst to her, she gave a massage to a woman who was close friends with her boss.
“The customer came to the shop but she didn’t introduce herself — and when she left, my boss called and told me, ‘Tina, you are good! My friend said you are very good!’ I was so happy! It was then I decided I am interested to be a masseuse,” Madam Tina said.
Madam Tina Juno with her tools of the trade. Image source: Fiona Liaw
Madam Tina is now a freelance masseuse with 18 years of experience under her belt, confidently working with clients of all races and nationalities – Malay, Chinese, even an Italian – specialising in post-birth treatment. Each post-birth massage session takes about 90 minutes, with an hour spent on the massage and another 30 minutes for the binding of the abdomen.
And while most of her clients bask in the joy of new motherhood, not every client has a happy story. Madam Tina recalled a Korean customer who suffered a miscarriage seven months into her pregnancy.
“I found out because her face looked ‘blue’ and sickly… I tried to reassure and comfort her the best I could, and told her she was still young and could try again.” Two months after Madam Tina completed her 10-session stint with the lady, she received the happy news that her client was pregnant again.
Good news like that, as well as the effort her clients make to keep in touch and update her, is part of what makes her job extremely rewarding. In addition, Madam Tina firmly believes that the massage and post-birth wrapping – despite being a tedious process for new mothers, has essential benefits like reducing aches and pains. These benefits, she says, will last from post-pregnancy all the way into old age.
She says that the benefits of post-birth wrapping have been recognised more of late, resulting in an increase in her client base. In the past, most customers looking for post-birth massages were Malay; now, the interest has spread to different ethnic groups and has even reached the expatriate community.
Unfortunately, while the demand for post-birth massages has risen, the supply of masseuses has not. The younger generation, Madam Tina laments, is uninterested in this sort of work.
When she first started, she said, massages were mostly performed by Malay women, but now the shortage of labour has meant that businesses have begun to hire foreign talent to fill the gaps.
“To be a masseuse, we must work six days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day. And work all the Saturdays and Sundays. Young people want to go disco, they want to go out with their friends. They don’t want to do this,” Tina explains, laughing as she recalls her own frustration with the odd hours of work she used to keep before becoming a freelancer.
Also, she added, the work is tiring – and when a masseuse is tired, the customers will be able to tell. While in the past she might have served up to five customers a day, now she limits herself to one or two, giving herself ample time to rest so she can deliver her best.
As she grows older she often thinks about permanently retiring, but she is kept going by her steady stream of customers and the joy the job brings her.
She said: “My customers are like my friends. They share things with me, we talk. When they tell me how happy they are when their husbands say they are slimmer after the massage, and show me their babies, they seem so happy. And because of that, I am so happy too.”
Written by: Fiona Liaw
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