Mother’s Day and Prodromal Labour

child hugging mother

I went into labour with my first child in 1991. The contractions were every four minutes, but not very strong. That was Friday afternoon. We went to the hospital, and they said, “Go home, you have a long way to go yet.” I didn’t sleep much that night. The contractions continued in the same way for the next three days. My husband called the delivery unit occasionally to offer our report. They didn’t want to see me yet. On Monday evening I had more pain. They told me to come in.

My son was born on Tuesday morning. However, not before 2 ½ hours of hard pushing, a forceps’ attempt that stopped his heart, and then a rush down the hall for an emergency C-section. He emerged unscathed. I had quite a recovery ahead of me. I learned afterwards that my three days of labour was called a prodromal labour. The regular contractions are real, so the pain is real, but it is somewhat unproductive in furthering the delivery. It’s a long exhausting labour.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and I have been considering another type of prodromal labour. The long, slow, regular labour of un-mothering. We welcome our children on the moment of their birth with open arms and unspeakable joy. We wrap them in our love and protection intensely for the first five years. Even in these early years, however, we start the journey of letting them go. They go sleep at Grandma’s or must go to daycare. Sometimes their arms stretch towards us along with a mournful wail and crocodile tears. It can feel like your heart is being ripped out. I can still recall the lump of guilt in my throat. I trusted back then that it would get easier. It just gets different. It’s surprisingly difficult as they move into adulthood.

My son is 32 now. I remain his mother, but in my personal experience, and that of other parents in my circle, these “parenting” years can be difficult. He’s a grown man, and yet my heart fusses. Is he well? Is he stressed with work? Should I be helping financially? Should I have been stricter in the years I was single parenting? If I had been…blah blah blah.

Advice is not always welcome, so one learns to smile and say nothing. Un-mothering.

I am so grateful for the contemplative journey that I started through SoulStream in 2007. I was 44, and this first son of mine was 16. I have learned that Christ is with me while I journey in this labour of un-mothering. I call it prodromal, because if feels much like that physical labour that was going nowhere. Lord, am I making any progress in learning to let go?

Though it feels slow, it is indeed changing for me. My anxieties around my past parenting are still with me but they are fewer and dissipate much more easily these days. The welcoming prayer helps me; “Oh, hello fear. I see you. It’s ok. Welcome. Jesus and I know. You had your place. It was important. You helped me guard my vulnerable children. Thank you.”

In continued love for my offspring, I practice:
Love without control
Holding uncertainties
Allowing their discomfort
Allowing my discomfort
Allowing Silence
Distancing to facilitate spaciousness
Watching with wonder
Listening for truth
Letting go with each breath. Today. Tomorrow. Only for this moment. Only for forever.

Through all the ways I have learned to live contemplatively, my un-mothering remains an intentional work. A choice to engage in that prodromal labour. I wait with Christ for something new to be born. Labouring – however long it takes.

Shawna Gill
Shauna is a retired Nurse Educator with a Master’s Degree in Nursing, specializing in critical care. Widowed at 43, she raised three children and found solace in blending nursing with pastoral care as a Parish Nurse. Shauna completed SoulStream’s Living from the Heart and Spiritual Direction programs in 2009. Now retired, she offers spiritual direction and contemplative practices, living gently with gratitude alongside her second husband. An author and avid gardener, Shauna also enjoys fishing, hiking, cycling, and photography.


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  1. thankyou Shauna– this is so “On point” – as a mom of 3 adult children -your wisdom speaks deeply and is so timely, I am so grateful for you!

  2. As I am in the last module of LFTH, I am leaning into living contemplatively, and what that means in mothering my 34-yr-old son, so I so resonate with your writing! I’m a bit stuck on detachment and one of my deepest desires is connection, and the learning of these with family (2 grandchildren as well!) is slow to come. Thanks for your honesty and your “list”!

  3. Again your writing went straight to my heart!
    Your 13 words of advice are so helpful to any parent no matter the age of the child or adult!! You are the meaning of the word “SAGE” because you are wise, judicious and experienced!!

  4. What a special message for today. You have captured so well the unique challenge in the experience of motherhood with adult children. Thank you Shauna 🤗