The Mask of Contentment

kylieblenkhornI hate fake people, always have. I have always been suspicious of people who are trying desperately to exude something that are clearly not. I’m not exactly sure why but they make me feel uneasy in a way.

I am a pretty honest and straightforward person, or at least I would like to think that I am. I often think to myself, when little inter-friendship or inter-family dramas unfold, “life is too short for this sh*t.” Generally speaking, I am pretty much one of those ‘what you see, is what you get’ kind of people, wearing my heart on my sleeve more often than I would like to admit, or that is advisable.

However, despite being fairly transparent (on the borderline of blunt, at times, some might say), even I find myself hiding behind a mask, especially around my son, one that I deeply wish I didn’t have to wear. That is not to say that my toddler has never seen me upset or shed tears because he certainly has, but I largely try and avoid having emotional meltdowns in his presence.

The disguise I wear around my son is one I also wear around other people, yet I don’t feel too much guilt about hiding my pain around them, as I do when I am with my him. I am not pretending to be happy around my son; he brings me more joy and happiness that I ever thought possible.

I am masking feelings of guilt, disappointment and sadness.

You see, it was not an easy road to motherhood for me. Like so many (too many) other couples out there, we battled infertility for years. Actually, that is poorly worded, let me rephrase. We suffered from, and continue to struggle with, the cruel, heart-wrenching curse that is infertility. Although, I do consider us some of the lucky ones, which adds to my guilt pile when my mask is off. We lucked out, and, by some divine intervention, we were finally blessed with our son.

He is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I am beyond grateful and understand whole-heartedly how fortunate we are. That doesn’t mean that I am not still suffering silently, tucked behind a veil of utter contentment and pure happiness, carefully hiding the guilt and longing gnawing away at me unrelentingly, while my son is awake and in front of me.

It begins the moment he wakes up, as we make our way slow, sleepily down our steep staircase, and into the kitchen to Into the kitchen to start our daily rituals, a lazily eaten peanut butter on toast breakfast for him, a large, milky cup of tea for me.

I sit on the couch, sipping my steaming cup of tea slowly, watching my son laugh and become animated as the trusty Paw Patrol pups save the day yet again, the longing slowly creeping in, tugging at my heart.

After we get dressed and ready to conquer the day, we head to the community center for preschool drop-off. I watch my son’s eyes light up at the siblings chasing each other up and down the narrow hallway, as we wait for the teacher to open the classroom door.

It breaks my heart thinking about the fact that we may never give my son a life-long playmate of his own. I feel riddled with guilt, knowing that he will likely never get to be the caring, protective, big brother that I know he would be.

When we are at the park, and another mother asks me if he is my first and only, us watching as her two children, very close in age, race each other up and down the slides, my smile falters, as I try to maintain an upbeat disposition, nodding in recognition that her presumption is correct.

I never, for one second, want my son to ever think that he is not enough, or that I am not happy with just him. He is an infinite lifetime of happiness. I wear my mask of contentment, not because I don’t want him to worry I am not satisfied with the small family of three we have created, but because I want and need to hide the guilt and shame and disappointment I feel about not being able to give him the brother or sister he deserves.

I know too many close friends and acquaintances that would change places with us in a second, having ridden (or are still riding) the reproductive roller coaster and having not faired as well as we did. Thinking about them and how much worse off we could be, not having been blessed with our son at all, piles on even more guilt, resulting in an almost knee-jerk reaction to slap on my “everything-is-fabulous-and-i-have-no-wants-that-are-unfulfilled” face, and I stuff down the rising ache in my soul, a little bit deeper each time.

I know as he grows older and has questions, there will evidently be a time when my son asks my husband and I why we only had him and no other children. Maybe, by then, I will be stronger and braver, able to shed the mask once and for all. Maybe I will be confident enough in his age and emotional intelligence that I will be able to answer honestly, knowing that my desire to give him a sibling did not equate to being discontent with just him, as our only child.

Despite my insistence that the mask I wear is to protect my son’s heart, maybe it is in fact for my benefit. Maybe the mask acts as shield of sorts, blocking my heart from absorbing and acknowledging the depth of pain and guilt I feel, preventing me from having the opportunity to grieve honestly and with finality, making way for an opportunity to forgive myself for the things I have no control over, and once and for all, free myself from the ping-pong game of emotions I feel when I think about my son as an only child.

Beneath the mask and false pretenses, I may feel safe and think I am protected, but in reality, escaping it once and for all could the very sanctuary I am in fact looking for.



Kylie Blenkhorn is a first-time mom and writer, living outside of Vancouver, BC (Canada). She splits her time between being a a part-time stay at home mom to her spunky, hilarious, 3.5 year-old little man and working as a Paralegal for a non-profit public education advocacy organization. Her writing has been featured on The Good Mother Project, Pregnant Chicken, Tribe Magazine and Mamalode. She is also a Huffington Post Blog contributor. You can check out her raw, honest musings on her blog at Find her on Twitter and Instagram.


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2 thoughts on “The Mask of Contentment

  1. Joan Reply

    Oh, Kylie.

    I am touched by your words even though this is a challenge or pain I have never had to suffer. And for that, I count myself so lucky. So thankful.

    However, the guilt we carry as parents is grounded in so many things! Why can’t we be as kind to ourselves as we are to others!?
    I have a daughter (11) and twin sons (9). I too consider life as a single child – but from another perspective. I wonder what our life would be like if any one of my children had the opportunity to live in a family as a single child, how much different (maybe even better! *gasp*) their life would be. As a family filled with a very long list of ‘special needs’ and health challenges including ADHD and emotional regulation, our intensity levels and challenges often affect one another like a bad train wreck. I can’t help but wonder if our life would have been calmer if one child had simply ‘space’ to him/herself, a parent’s full attention; the ability to reduce the strain on capacity all.the.time

    I understand the pain and guilt in your heart – not as a parent who has struggled with infertility – but as a parent with a completely different flavour of ‘What If’ in her heart.

    Be sure to be kind to yourself and offer yourself the same understanding and healing as you would to someone else.

  2. Sara Hodge Reply

    I was an only child growing up, and though there were occasional times when I wished I had a sibling, for the most part I was very content with being an only. There are many, many benefits to it for a child (or, there were for me!) and never once to this day have I thought badly of my parents for not having more. My mom miscarried a baby before me and so perhaps I was the rainbow baby they were content with. This post makes me hope she never felt that kind of guilt, as I think my mom is amazing and I know she sacrificed a lot for me over the years. We are very close now and I have the utmost respect and gratitude for her. I hope this helps you see it from the other side. I’m sure you too are a great mom!

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