Mentoring for Experienced Doulas

We asked Kath Harbisher, one of our team of Nurturing Birth mentors, and qualified counsellor, to explore the benefits of mentoring for an experienced doula.

Mentoring for experienced doulas – as an experienced doula how does that phrase sit with you? Do you think there’s a place for mentoring in the world of a doula who already knows her job?

Maybe this might be something you’d consider, maybe not. In the meantime, may I share some of my thoughts to add to your ponderings on the matter?

As you will already be aware, Nurturing Birth unveiled its mentoring programme just a short time ago. What is different is that Nurturing Birth offers mentoring to experienced doulas. But, what’s the point of that? And what does mentoring for an experienced doula ‘look like’?

Perhaps a good place to start is to examine what mentoring for experienced doulas is not.

It’s not surveillance.

Let’s be very clear on that. It’s not surveillance.

Mentoring in the guise of surveillance means that, essentially, someone comes along who doesn’t really know you, doesn’t really understand why you do your doula work as you do. Yet, they decide what a doula ‘ought’ to be and pass judgement on whether you meet that standard.

Mentoring is completely the opposite in Nurturing Birth’s view. It’s about creating a safe place to talk about your work, talk about you, somewhere to shed all the emotional baggage others have dumped on you. It’s a safe space held for you to come and find out who you are as a doula. I think that sometimes in the hustle and bustle of everyday life we can lose sight of who we are, how we got there and where we want to go next.

In this safe space, instead of being told what you ought to be, the uniqueness of who you are is acknowledged and valued. All the work you’ve done, all the reading, the skill set you’ve developed, the personal growth you’ve made is…well…nurtured. Mentoring the Nurturing Birth way is nurturing. Sometimes it’s very empowering to be held in that way for a little while before you go back out to hold that safe space for others.

But there is a definite purpose to mentoring that sits around having another pair of eyes looking at the things you want to look at. You know how you can be sitting looking at something, an amazing view, a work of art, and someone else comes along and sits next to you and looks too. Then, after a bit, they point out something you just hadn’t even noticed. But when they do point it out, you wonder how you didn’t see it before. In a way, that’s what mentors do. Sit with you and look at things you want to reflect on and offer perspectives that, perhaps, you didn’t see before. Having a different perspective on anything shifts our world. Sometimes, it really rocks it, sometimes it’s a bit of a ripple. The point is that shifts in perspective enable each of us to grow and change, review who we are, consider our beliefs, our truth and our reality. In hearing her perspective, her view of what you’re both looking at, you get the chance to see through your mentor’s eyes as she sees through yours. That gives both of you the opportunity to deconstruct, untangle and reassemble your thoughts, ideas, values and attitudes in what may be very different and unexpected ways. Perhaps to see how expanding your skill set might benefit you and your clients. To exchange knowledge, ideas and resources with someone who understands what it is to be a doula. It’s always a two-way process and what you and your mentor create together is as valuable to her as it is to you.

I can hear you saying ‘but I have my doula comrades and sisters for that. I have my friends’.
And, yes, you do, and often that’s enough. But sometimes it isn’t because the emotional burden is too heavy and you don’t know how to lighten the load. Perhaps you want to do some courses, broaden your education and skill set as a doula but you have no idea what to choose. Maybe you can feel yourself starting to burn out but you can’t seem to find a way to make it stop.

The difference between a mentor and a sister doula or friend is objectivity. Your doula sisters and friends like and value you as you do them. You bolster each other up, you listen to each other. But, the very nature of that relationship means that your doula sisters and friends don’t ever want to seem critical or judgemental of you, so sometimes the supportive things they say can feel supportive but not really help you truly resolve things and move forward.

A mentor will not criticise or judge you either, but because the relationship is slightly different, she will not be afraid to challenge you. She will push you out of your comfort zone and walk alongside you out into unknown territory. A mentor can enable you to develop the skill of viewing things through different lenses or perspectives, give you support that will enable you to continue to grow and develop as a doula, but as dictated by you, and you alone.

Mentoring is an important part of self-care. Doulas, by nature, tend to be people who always put themselves last in the queue. But, when we don’t ever get the time or space to replenish ourselves physically, psychologically and emotionally, we risk burn-out. We collapse under the weight of the emotional baggage dumped on us. We feel physically exhausted no matter how much we sleep, and we find it impossible to turn off our minds. But, we get up and plod on because that’s what we do.

As the saying goes:  “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

A mentor can help you fill up your cup and regain that balance within yourself.

As doulas, we are usually very competent, practical people that others tend to lean on. We step up to the plate when people need us and we rarely ask for anything back. So, when the time comes that we do need help and support, it can be very difficult to ask for it. Asking makes us feel weak, flawed and incompetent. The art of self-care is being able to put down our pride and ask for that support in whatever way we need to have it. It takes courage to allow ourselves to be that vulnerable with another person. It takes courage to be vulnerable and offer yourself up in a mentoring relationship.

But as Brené Brown says, courage and vulnerability are all part of ‘daring greatly’.

Do you dare to dare greatly?

Find out more about Nurturing Birth’s mentoring programme, available to ANY doula based anywhere in the world – visit the website or contact Michelle, Head of Mentoring.

Kath Harbisher is listed on the Nurturing Birth Directory