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Mirror, mirror, on the wall

14 September, 2015

Mirror, mirror, on the wall

Could a fairytale reveal why some midwives bully students? Natalie Corden, a second-year student and member of the RCM’s student midwives’ forum (SMF), believes so.

What makes a person become a bully? For the student being bullied by a mentor on placement, it is a difficult experience, as Gillen (2009) reveals. One student describes being spoken to badly and made to feel small and unappreciated. Another says she was belittled in front of clients. A third describes being degraded and shouted at in front of others.

When I read this, I wonder why a midwife would do this to a student she is mentoring. Are negative behaviours the reflection of a person? I believe we need to understand the reflection that the bully sees in the mirror. 

The wicked queen in Snow White is definitely a bully. She is extreme; I know – no poison apples, please! – but a good illustration all the same. What do we know about her?

She says: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, whom is the fairest of them all?’ And she is angry when the mirror does not show her face.  

The queen has married a widow with a young beautiful daughter. Snow White is kind, caring, compassionate and forgiving. She is also strong. The queen is angry and jealous of the stepdaughter. I know this is a fairytale, but stick with me – does jealousy develop a bully? When the queen puts her question to the mirror, it is her own reflection that angers her.

Now, think about the student midwife. She may be young (ish), kind, caring and passionate about midwifery and evidence-based practice. The mentor may see these qualities and experience jealousy that this is no longer reflected in her mirror. How does she react? She behaves negatively and is a bully. She undermines the student and talks down to her, but is her behaviour caused by anger at herself for not having the reflection that she used to have? She has lost the positivity and belief in midwifery that led her into the profession.

Perhaps rediscovering that lost positivity is the answer? If she could somehow reignite the spark that was there before then it would help her to embrace the role of mentor.

Still, it may be a difficult challenge to look at the reflection in the mirror and ask: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, where has the midwife in me gone that used to be my reflection?’

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