Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Seeing my ex's son brings back the painful memory of my abortion

 I keep thinking this little boy could have been mine

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

Seven years ago, I broke up with a man I was deeply in love with. I got pregnant and he said I had to have an abortion – which I did – and then he dumped me and got another woman pregnant and married her. I was devastated. Now, seven years later, I find my ex and his family have moved near me and I'm often bumping into them in the street. I keep thinking this little boy could have been mine and it upsets me so much and brings everything back. I can't move. What can I do?

Virginia says...

People often ask me if I ever get problems I don’t have an answer to. So far, I never have, but this type of question is the nearest I ever get. Because you are, in a sense, asking the impossible. You’re saying: “When confronted with pain, I hurt – what can I do?” Bar having some kind of emotional lobotomy, there’s nothing you can do. Pain is supposed to hurt. Humans feel pain and you are human .

But it might help if I explained how I see it. I think you carry this pain around with you always. Ever since you had the abortion, you’ve had a sense of regret – regret that you never had a child, regret that your lover left you, feelings of “it might have been”. All these feelings are inside you, and they’d still be inside you, even if you lived on a desert island and never saw anyone.

What these meetings are doing is simply drawing attention to these feelings. Your feelings. You see your ex and you’re reminded of how much you loved him. You see the little boy and you’re reminded of your  own childlessness.

You’re right to think of moving. You wouldn’t get rid of the feelings, of course – they’re there for ever – but you would get rid of the prompts that bring them to the surface. But you say you can’t move house, so that’s out of the question. Are there any places where you are more likely to meet this family than not? A particular supermarket or the park or near a school the boy goes to? Make a map and try as hard as you can to avoid those areas, even if it means taking a longer route.

If this isn’t possible, try the opposite tack. Try to get inured to the pain. Sometimes, if you feel it long enough, you can develop a hard skin that will cover over it. Every time you go out, assume you will meet this family. Be constantly vigilant. Eventually, you will get exhausted by living in this state of tension and start to take it for granted, in the same way, I’m afraid, as we do if we pass a pitiful beggar on the street. As the years go by, the pangs of pity we felt at the first sight of him fade into a kind of resigned acceptance before, eventually, we hardly notice him at all.

I hope that, slowly, the sight of this family prompts nothing more than a sad kind of envy. And in the meantime, I do so hope that you find some kind of fulfilment in your own life that makes the sight of them meaningless.


Readers say... Time to get help

You can’t move and he almost certainly won’t move, so the scab has been picked off this unresolved wound, and you have the pain all over again. Emotionally, and I’m sure you know this without me telling you, you have not dealt with the trauma of an abortion under pressure, and the man’s subsequent behaviour. You need professional help. I suggest you take the matter up with your GP, and ask to be referred to a counsellor or therapist experienced in this kind of area.

Ian Hurdley, by email

Put it behind you

You say you can’t move, but you must move on. It’s awkward, seeing this man who hurt you, but you should count yourself lucky to have got rid of him. You have two options: either waste the rest of your life mooning over what might have been, or take charge of your own destiny. Force yourself to keep busy. Work at forming new relationships, develop different interests and seek out fresh experiences to alter your perspective on life. Focus on the present and the future – that’s the only way forward.

EI Hunter, by email


Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’m very confused. I love my girlfriend but she’s always blowing hot and cold. She had a troubled upbringing  – her father left when she was four and her mother married a man she hated. But although I understand her problems, I sometimes feel I can’t cope. She’ll dump me one day and ring up in tears the next day saying she didn’t mean it. Sometimes she says she loves me, then she doesn’t turn up on a date or picks a row from nowhere. When things are good, they’re wonderful – but I’m not sure I can go on like this.

Yours sincerely,


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