By the time you are an adult, it seems everyone has at least one awkward topic in their life. You know the ones, right? The facts that – when brought up – can end a conversation in a second, sometimes even clear the room. The stuff about you, your past, your family, whatever, that makes other people squirm, clam up, or avoid ever speaking to you again. It’s not crazy stuff either. You’d think it would have to be really crazy stuff to get such a reaction, but it’s often fairly simple, everyday issues. It’s life itself.
I got my first big awkward topic freshman year of college, at the ripe young age of 19. Death. People hate talking about death. Nothing can shut down a conversation faster. I guess it’s because so many people are terrified of it that they seem uncomfortable discussing its occurrence. I was working at Disney World when my mother died, and I remember a conversation with a coworker a few months after I returned from her funeral. The girl had no idea that anything had happened in my life or that I had left, but somehow in chatting with each other, I mentioned that I had gone home for a week in May. She naturally asked why, and I responded with the simple truth: “Well, my mother died.” The poor girl. She had no idea how to reply to that, so she bumbled over a few words, looked away, and quickly found something that she needed to be doing at that exact moment. I don’t think I ever had a full conversation with her again.
Though those experiences have lessened as we gain more and more years between today and the day Mother died, I still have a long list of stories involving uncomfortable silences and lack of eye contact. Just as this one began to fade, I picked up a new awkward topic. Adoption.
Don’t get me wrong: if you’re on the adopting side, people love to hear your stories and chat about your kids and how it all came to be. Cross over to the side of the birth mom, and… not so much. I’m very open about my experience as a birth mother, about my pregnancy, and about my daughter and her family. I enjoy talking about her, and it doesn’t bring me any pain to do so – something I assume is obvious to others simply because I’m willing to bring it up. Same as with death in the family – if I didn’t want to talk about it, I wouldn’t tell you it happened in the first place, right?
Maybe not. Maybe people think they are doing me a favor by shutting down any conversation about my adoption process and never bringing it up ever again. Or maybe, it just makes them feel awkward. No one likes feeling awkward. We run from it. Can’t say that I blame them for tagging out of any conversation that takes an uncomfortable turn. Can’t say I don’t do the same thing.
I guess my question is: why is all this stuff so uncomfortable for us in the first place? Why are we so scared to talk about certain things? Do we fear making the other person feel bad if we ask a question or carry on a topic? Have we simply been trained subconsciously from our birth that there are some things you don’t talk about?
I wish I could say that having gone through things like the death of a parent makes me more open to discussing it with others, but unfortunately, quite the opposite is true. When I see that someone else lost their mother, my immediate reaction is avoidance. I don’t jump at the chance to sympathize with a situation I should completely understand. It’s something I want to work on, something I wish we all could work on. We don’t have to push at times when it’s clear the person doesn’t want to discuss something further, but we can at least be open to hearing about an experience, even if it’s not the coziest and cutest story to tell. Let’s put aside the initial feelings of awkwardness and be there for each other. Let’s ask questions and be interested and feel empathy. Let’s stop looking away when someone says something awkward, and instead, look them straight in the eyes and ask, “Would you like to talk about it?” I’ll be you anything that they actually do.