Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Am I adopted?

This 23-year-old says her sister looks nothing like her and her mother can't produce a birth certificate. Is this enough evidence to suspect she was adopted?

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I’m 23, and ever since I was young I have suspected I was adopted. I have a younger sister who not only looks nothing like me, but is completely different in personality. And I don’t seem to share any physical characteristics with my parents. I love them, but I’ve never felt I belonged in our family. And now I want my birth certificate for a passport, my mother became very odd and said she’d lost it. When I turned 18 I asked my dad if I was adopted, but he just avoided the question. How can I find out?


Yours sincerely,



Virginia says...

When you’re 23 it’s extremely normal to feel that your parents are aliens. (It’s only when you’re older and look in the mirror and see one of them staring back that you realise you’re all too alike after all). It’s not uncommon, either, for siblings to have completely different personalities and often to remain at loggerheads all their lives. And imagining you’re adopted can be a comforting kind of fantasy, to explain what is probably a very uncomfortable period of separation from them. If I imagine, right now, that I were adopted, I feel a huge sense of relief flood over me. It only lasts a moment, but it’s a temporary unburdening of all the guilt and baggage that comes with being the child of parents you know.

But you have more evidence than most people to stoke the flames of this particular fantasy. So much more, indeed, that I can understand why you feel it might not be a fantasy at all. I wonder, first of all, what your sister thinks about this idea? Just because she’s different to you, doesn’t mean to say she might not be just as intuitive, as most people are within close families.

Next, I’d tell your mother that you’re going to apply for a birth certificate and see what her reaction is. She might have another look and produce it. Or she might say: “Fine, go ahead, here are the details.” Or she’d become all flustery and worried, in which case you could ask her directly.  If you prefaced any suggestion with the words: “You know I always love you more than anything in the world, but I keep getting this silly thought that I might be adopted. You would tell me wouldn’t you? Because if I found out behind your back it would be horrible.”

If you get no joy out of her, then tackle your father again. He was confused, clearly, last time you mentioned it, either because he thought it was a crazy question or because he had something to hide. I suspect you’d get a far straighter answer now he’s had time to consider a response.

There are other things that could have happened, of course. You might be result of an affair of your mother’s, or the result of sperm donation, or perhaps the illegitimate child of a close relative. Adoption isn’t the only possibility. Or you may be, as is most likely, quite honestly, one of the millions of children who feel that they and their parents have absolutely nothing in common – except, of course, that rather crucial quality, love. 

Virginia Ironside’s book, ‘No! I Don’t Need Reading Glasses!’ (Quercus £14.99) is out now

Readers say...

Does it matter?

Although being adopted is one explanation, you could be the product of a relationship between your mother and someone not your dad, or the product of assisted conception using a sperm donor, in which case you could contact Or the British Association for Adoption and Fostering ( publishes a very helpful guide to finding out if you’re adopted. You might not be. But let’s assume that your gut instinct is correct. Just pause and peek inside your parents’ minds for a moment. If you are the product of another relationship, or of donor conception, how cool is it that they both put that to one side, and came together to bring you up together?  How much must your father love you that he is so terrified at the possibility of losing you, or you thinking less of him, that he has lived with keeping this from you all these years?

What matters is not your DNA but who changed your nappies, put up with you during puberty, and shared pride in all your childhood triumphs and disasters.  

So please, if you do find out something you didn’t expect, don’t feel betrayed. Just regard it as something that makes you that little bit special, and let exploring its consequences be something that enriches your life. 

Andy Waters, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Several years ago my daughter, who was then pregnant, was given a council flat. In the last year, however, she and her son have moved in with her boyfriend and she’s letting the flat out privately to some friends. Both my daughter and her boyfriend are earning good money, and I feel what she is doing is immoral – but I don’t want to go behind my daughter’s back and tell the council. I thought I brought my daughter up to be honest but clearly I’ve failed. Do you have any idea of what I should do?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Peter to do?

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