Virginia Ironside: Dilemmas - Features - Health & Families - The Independent

Virginia Ironside: Dilemmas


Ten years ago I had an abortion. I never thought I wouldn't one day get pregnant in the future and now I regret bitterly what I did. At the time I thought I wouldn't be able to look after it; the father was a violent man and the prospect of having to put up with him for the rest of my life, even only as a visiting father, made me scared. But now I keep thinking about "what might have been". It's too late now, at 42, to have a child – I've had tests and they say it's unlikely – and anyway I haven't got a man in my life. How can I ever get over the agonising feeling of having made such a big mistake in my past?

Yours sincerely, Judith

Virginia says...If I may say so, I think you're making the terrible mistake of looking on the bright side. You're imagining that had you not had an abortion, now you would be the mother of a lovely little person of ten years old, someone to care for and give meaning to your life. Someone who loved you and someone who would, eventually, after many an uproarious family Christmas, marry, produced grandchildren and look after you in your old age.

But let's look at the dark side, the side you should be concentrating on. You would have had the baby. The father would have either sought adoption or insisted on visiting every weekend. The weekends he didn't let you down, he'd turn up drunk and frightening. Occasionally he would fail to remember to drop your child back home. Your child would have grown up bitter, constantly wondering why it had been born. And by now, aged ten, it would be returning from school with messages saying its behaviour was so bad that it would be best if it were excluded. You would be miserable, marinated in guilt, and horrified when your child took to drugs, and finally vanished into a sea of missing persons, never to be seen again.

Now you may say that's more than the dark side. It's the blackest of black sides. But it's a possibility. So let's look at the reality of the situation. When you had the abortion, you couldn't have coped. You weren't in a position to be a good mother. You did the right thing at the time. Be more charitable about the decision you made. Don't berate yourself for it. Forget about the unborn baby, to whom I believe you were a good mother by preventing it from coming into a difficult world extremely disadvantaged by having two parents at loggerheads. Be a better mother to your young self. And do try to look to the future.

Okay, you can't have children. But have you thought of adopting or fostering? Rather than yearn for some impossible relationship, why not put this maternal longing to some good use and offer a wretched young person – either tiny or bigger – the chance of a stable and loving home?

The only difference will be that it won't be your very own child. But you'll soon find that your emotions are inextricably bound up in their wellbeing. Do this now, while you can. Don't wait till you're in your sixties and look back and say to yourself, full of regret and longing: "Oh, if only I'd adopted or fostered a child."

Readers say...

It was for the best

Every decision we make has implications for either the short-term or the long-term future, but when we make them we need to give thought to the rightness or wrongness of that decision at the time of making it.

I can feel for your regret now and it must be painful for you. On the other hand, you had your termination at a time when you felt you would not be able to take care of a child and when you wanted to avoid a life in the company of a violent man. It may be some consolation to know that you have avoided a life of great misery and possible injury from the father of the child you never had. I believe your decision was right at the time of making it.

Dr Michael B Johnson


Be easy on yourself

Your regret is that you didn't have children, not that you didn't have this particular child in such bad circumstances. If you can be clear about this in your mind, then perhaps you can ease this painful self-blame.

Rachel Greenberg

By email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I have been having an affair with a married man for more than a year and recently he left his wife and children to move in with me. My problem is that his wife has now phoned me and wants to meet me to talk about things. In one way, I would like to meet her because I feel it will make arrangements with the children easier in the future – and also I'm curious! But my partner is dead against it and flies into a rage if I suggest it. I'm tempted to see her behind his back. What do you think?

Yours sincerely, Charlene

What would you advise Charlene to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent., or go to Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week