Virginia Ironside: Dilemmas

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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

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