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Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: My husband had an affair with a married woman, now she is having his baby

Dear Virginia,

I coped when my partner had an affair with a married woman, and we made up. But now we've heard she's just had his baby, and I can't stop thinking about it. I hate the idea of this little girl growing up without her real father (as my sons did), but contact would be painful, as I had a still born daughter years ago. My partner thinks her visits might be consolation for me, but it would be agony. I'm so confused!

Yours sincerely, Regina

When we feel mixed emotions, as you're doing, Regina, we often try to get control of them in order to make us feel better. We want to prioritise them, to know where we are in this maelstrom of feelings; we want to put everything in boxes with labels on. You wonder whether you're upset on the child's behalf or your own, but in fact, although you're right that there is more than one emotion loose here, it's nothing like as simple as that.

The truth is that you are probably feeling a plethora of emotions from every direction. You no doubt feel a re-eruption of fury at your partner's infidelity, a surge of unhappiness at the resurrection of the grief you felt when your daughter died, and a re-awakening of the guilt you felt when your boys were growing up without their real dad. On top of this, there must be rage at your partner for being so utterly inconsiderate of your feelings by imagining that this girl would be consolation for the child you lost, and, to make matters worse, there's almost certainly a good dose of hate, a wishing that this child were dead or had never been born. And, oh yes, I forgot; there's also a heavy helping of real selfless compassion for the mite and a longing to make things all right for her.

To say you're in a stew wouldn't be far from the truth. Only, you can't even be sure it's a stew. Perhaps it's a pudding, or a cocktail – though to me it doesn't sound like anything edible at all. It sounds like a nightmare.

Sometimes we simply have to let things be nightmares and just wait for them to end. At this precise moment, you have no power over anything, Regina. You have no idea if the married woman is going to keep the affair she had with your partner a secret, and palm the daughter off on her husband as their own – in which case, in all likelihood, the child will have as happy or unhappy a life as any of us do and you won't be involved at all. You don't know yet if she's going to incorporate your partner in any way – in which case he might be involved in visiting, and you could agree to be part of this or not, as you wished. You can do nothing about the past, your boys or your stillborn daughter, which you managed to come to terms with until this incident brought up all those memories. The only consolation is that, in my experience, unpleasant memories, if they've been reasonably successfully dealt with and buried in the first place, do, when they've been prodded awake the second time round, return to their graves rather quicker than they did the first time.

Sometimes we just have to realise that things are, for that particular moment – or often, for that particular week or year – just bloody awful. During the war, apparently there was a poster printed to keep up our spirits in the eventuality of an invasion. The words on it read, simply: "Keep calm and carry on." I think that's what you have to do at the moment. And try not to let either past horrors or imaginary futures make the unpleasant present even worse.

Readers say...

You deserve better

I don't think that you have ever grieved properly for the loss of your earlier marriage and your baby. Did you stay with this cheat because you feared further abandonment?

Not only has he betrayed you, he callously ignores his paternal responsibility and thinks it reasonable that you accept the living proof of his infidelity as some sort of "consolation" for your loss. Sorry? Have I missed something here? Where is the remorse for the pain and humiliation he has caused you by fathering a child with someone else? You and your sons deserve more than his breathtakingly selfish insensitivity. He has no feelings for anyone but himself. It may be tougher without him but, with counselling and some healthy contempt for this creep, you will see that you have been alone in this relationship for a long time.

Christina Burton, Eastbourne, East Sussex


Don't be sad

Perhaps you are upset about the whole situation. You have tried to put your partner's affair behind you and this child is reminding you of it. You're upset because of the daughter you yourself lost and you're upset because this new child is going to be growing up without a father. But it doesn't all have to be sad. You say the other lady is married so if her husband is accepting the little girl will have a father as well as enjoying time with your family if you decide to organise weekly visits. It all depends on how involved you want to be with her and how much responsibility you and your partner want to take.

Nowmi Zaman, Barrow in Furness


You're still grieving

Regina, you say you "made it up" with your partner – I assume this child had been conceived before that? If not, he is a deceitful swine and may still be seeing his mistress. Perhaps his apparent lack of thought about his baby is an act to reassure you? In any case, your feelings of rage, pain and betrayal for your own sake are understandable.

If, on the other hand, you are genuinely concerned about this little girl, try to remember that she didn't come into the world to console or torment you. Your grief for your stillborn daughter will never entirely disappear, but don't associate your partner's child with the memory of your own daughter. Her visits should be neither "consolation" nor "agony", but an opportunity for you to give some disinterested love to an innocent child who will have her own personality and babyish charm.

Benny Ross, Newcastle upon Tyne


It's time to step aside

This is a real cat's cradle of conflicting emotions. But Regina's last sentence, "Am I upset on her behalf or mine?" gives a clue about how she may disentangle it. If you are honest, Regina, would you not say that the hurt and distress is all on your side? The baby may be blissfully happy in her own little world with her mother, but you are excluded and you feel that dreadfully. To compound those feelings of exclusion, your own partner is inextricably bound by blood ties to this new baby. Perhaps you long to be a part of this family, but you know you can't be, not really.

You're clearly a warm, caring person, Regina, so be loving now. Be loving enough to let go. This child has all she currently needs; there will be time enough to tell her the truth when she asks for it. Hard as it may seem, you have to stand aside. Given time, the welter of emotions will die down, but I think you know that.

Rosemary Pettit, London W6