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December 26, 2007

How I Learned to Stop Hating My Mother

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About a year later, while I was busy living my own carefully constructed life, my husband and I found out that the baby I had carried in my belly for 18 weeks was plagued with irreparable genetic defects. We decided to terminate the pregnancy. I hadn't felt sadness and helplessness like that since I was a child.

I did not call my mother. But she called me, sobbing, after my brother told her what had happened, saying that she wanted to come help me. I told her not to, but she showed up on my doorstep anyway.

I think we both needed something bigger than us to get over ourselves, and that tragedy broke us down and brought us together in a way that we had never managed on our own. If it was a test, we both passed — my mother knew instinctively what her daughter needed, and I let her give it to me. "It was the first time you were there for me as the mother I needed," I said to her on the phone recently, choking up at the memory. "You even gave me a hug." My mother laughed, reminding me that I actually had to ask her for that hug, and I laughed through my tears along with her.

The truth is, I never would have embraced her if she hadn't quit drinking, which, in a bittersweet twist of irony, she had done on the down-low when she found out I was pregnant five months earlier. There were no rehabs, no interventions. For the first time, she says, she quit for herself. She quit drinking not because anyone was forcing her to, but because she wanted to have a relationship with my child, and she knew that she couldn't have both. It wasn't easy — though acupuncture helped with the physical withdrawal — but once she made the choice, that was that. She hasn't picked up a drink since.

Now she calls her "alcoholic episode" — all two decades of it — over and done. "It's not even a part of me anymore. That was my emptiness, my loneliness, my best friend. I'd rather have my grandkids than my other best friend." Part of me wants to say, "What about me? Why couldn't you quit for me?" But I don't want to get greedy.

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