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Managing Uncertainty While Building a Family

Lovingkindness is the antidote to stress and doubt.

Key points

  • More than 6 million women in the US will need medical treatment to get pregnant.
  • The stress of family planning for many couples can eclipse the joy, spontaneity, love, and excitement they once felt.
  • Mindfulness strategies grounded in neuroscience may alleviate stress and anxiety during the planning process.

Uncertainty is so painful to tolerate when we have dreamt of something, and we can’t trust it will happen for us. This is especially true of family planning. Stress quickly builds up when you try to conceive and things are not working out as planned. You might be forging ahead, and nothing is happening yet, or perhaps you’ve received a diagnosis of infertility and are being assisted by reproductive medicine. More than 6 million women in the US will need medical treatment to get pregnant. Many of those women had to pause treatments during the early months of the pandemic as fertility clinics shut down, adding an additional level of stress and uncertainty.1

Rod Long, Unsplash
Source: Rod Long, Unsplash

I am a proud mama today, but for many years, motherhood seemed unattainable, and the mountains of challenges seemed unsurpassable. The stress of family planning for many couples can eclipse the joy, spontaneity, love, and excitement they once felt. Since the process of building a family is often a private one, the experience can be isolating and overwhelming. To maintain hope and resilience, I will share some mindfulness exercises that worked on my journey.

All the techniques I share are grounded in neuroscience and have a tremendous impact on stress reduction and anxiety regulation. I encourage you to play with them, try them at different times of day, practice them on your own or with another person, and give yourself time to see if they stick.

Deep Breathing

Sometimes when we are upset, we take short, shallow breaths or hold our breath completely. This sends signals to our brains that we are in distress. To help feel relaxed, we can practice belly breathing. Breathe in slowly and deeply (counting to 5 in your head) as your belly and lungs fill up with air. On your exhale, slowly release air through your mouth while counting to 6 in your head. Pay attention to the air as it moves in and out of your body as you count. You may rest your hand on your stomach if it calms you to feel the natural rise and fall of your belly as you breathe.

Safe Space Visualization

This visualization uses our natural senses to soothe us and bring us into a place of centeredness. You can set a timer for 5-10 minutes. Then close your eyes or look at a neutral place. Call to mind a place you have been where you feel calm, safe, and happy. Imagine each of your senses and what you experience there. One by one, imagine using your sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Notice what soothes you and know you can travel back here any time you like!

Sadly, in the face of confusing input and uncertain explanations, women can become self-blaming, self-attacking, and self-loathing. The antidote to this is the lovingkindness meditation.


Lovingkindness is a way to describe tender, benevolent affection. It is a well-wishing toward others and oneself. When you are suffering, this is a time to be extra generous with self-directed lovingkindness. Often, we can't change the challenges presented to us, but we can change the way we approach them and how we treat ourselves in the process. This is key! Here is a simple verse that you can use or change to be in your own voice:

I wish wellness and peace for my family

I wish wellness and peace for my friends

I wish wellness and peace for my community

I wish wellness and peace for all beings, everywhere

I wish wellness and peace for myself

“One of the strengths of kindness, generosity, and action is that it returns us to a place of feeling whole and intact,” says Sharon Salzberg, New York Times bestselling author of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.2Let this kindness be the place and the voice you come to when you are suffering. Talk to yourself the way you would a friend. We are all human and all worthy of self-compassion and love.

There are so many unknowns in the journey to build a family. The one thing you can control is to love yourself throughout all of it, to love yourself unconditionally, no matter what happens. And it may take the greatest amount of courage you ever had to tap into, but you have it in you. When nothing else is controllable, the way you treat yourself and love yourself is in your hands.


1. Fertility Clinics Shut Down During The Pandemic. Now, New Patients Are Rushing In. WBEZ Chicago. Araceli Gómez-Aldana. August 12, 2021.

2. 4 Ways Loving Kindness & Mindfulness Can Change Your Life, With Sharon Salzberg…

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