Tag Archives: Motherhood

Subculture Subconscious

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This is a draft of a post from July 15, 2013…back in the deep throes of my postpartum depression and new motherhood. It’s unfinished. I didn’t post it, because what was there to say? What point was there to make? That this new life was difficult? That I was dying? But I want to post it now.

It’s not like this anymore, but I wanted to put this up, because it’s like this for a lot of people. And if I’m honest, I still have moments that remind me of these:

 

Motherhood.

I literally felt like I was slowly dying. Like when people asked me how I was doing (“How are you?”), I would answer, “I am slowly dying.”

For the record, responding with “I am slowly dying” is a conversation-killer. There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.”

There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What do you mean?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.”

There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What’s wrong?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.” Because I felt like the life force was draining out of me. Because I’d gone well under pre-pregnancy weight and now I was balding and I couldn’t remember anything anymore and all I wanted to do was sleep but sleep was the last thing I could do, because I had to take care of my kid-who-kicks-me-in-the-head-all-night. No matter what I ate, I’d keep losing weight. I figured out how to make fast-as-hell meals. I ate cheese cake. I ate ice cream. And yes, there were days I had zero time to eat at all.

My kid, otoh, has been Happy As a CLAM. (Why do they say that? Is it because clams look like they’re smiling?). She giggles and coos and smiles. She is thriving. She’s enormous–in the 97th percentile in height and weight. I could see my weight transfer to her body, my hair loss translate into her hair growth. I loved her to death. Literally.

Because in a sense, I am dying. I’m saying goodbye to my old life and building a new one. I am re-examining my life, my own childhood, in this little girl. I’m revisiting my childhood bliss and pain. What hurt me? How can I not hurt her?

When Serena becomes Catwoman, she dies. Peter Parker gets bit by a spider and gets ill, and becomes Spiderman.

Add on top of that–the psychic mirroring a child creates. It brings up all this past trauma–and if not trauma, emotions. Re-examining my own childhood. Re-examining my parents and my own parenting. That plus the sleep deprivation brings everything to a Whole Nuther Level Of Crazy.

But here’s the thing–a few things are saving my life these days.

My friends. In particular, this tribe of parents. In particular, the tribe of moms and stay-at-home-dads.

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Why Don’t We Talk About Postpartum Depression?

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I recently blogged a bit about my postpartum depression (PPD). It is the beginnings of an essay I plan to write, and possibly part of a future memoir. There are still a number of moving parts to my life right now, much of which I am not ready to make public, so the post is purposely ambiguous. But I hope it gives you an idea of how PPD feels, even if depression manifests in different ways in different people.

Your questions in the comments, however, are helping me understand what it is I have to address in subsequent revisions and essays on PPD, when I share my process. For the record, I’m scared shitless writing about my PPD. But I know it helps more than it hurts me to do so.

But mostly, I’m glad I’ve got people talking. The thing that mystified me most about having PPD was the total isolation and lack of rescue/help/resources/education. My friend S also survived PPD and interviewed me for a story she is writing on the subject. One of her questions was, “What can we do to change the landscape for mothers with PPD?”

We can do so much. Because right now, there is so little. Here are some of my thoughts on the taboo nature of PPD–of discussing PPD, of addressing PPD, etc. I welcome you to join in on the discussion…

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P is for Postpartum Depression

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I never thought I would get pregnant.

I had an easy pregnancy. Easier than I thought anyone with high risk factors like I had, could anticipate. No morning sickness. No bloating. I was able to wear my wedding ring until the very last days. My feet stayed the same size throughout. I even went off blood pressure medication and my blood pressure stayed low for almost the entire duration of my pregnancy. I was glowing. I gained weight only in my belly.

Birth was amazing, too. I was induced because my blood pressure climbed in the last three weeks of pregnancy and could not be managed. And so a week after my due date, I checked into the hospital, clutching my yoga ball and a huge bag of snacks for my husband. They started me on cytotec, gave me an Ambien, and I went to sleep (well, I thought I went to sleep–my husband said I started dancing and falling and dancing on Ambien). The next morning at 6:30am, they started me on pitocin, and what felt like the worst diarrhea cramps in the world paired with the ultimate in constipation, hit me. I breathed through the contractions. I had no desire to scream–I just rode the waves of pain with deep breaths. I felt calm and ready. I wanted to meet my kid.

Every time the pump clicked, I knew a contraction would hit me. My contractions reached two minutes long, with less than a minute rest in between. I got an epidural. I felt no contractions from that point on, amazed when my husband read the monitor and announced, “That was a huge contraction you just had!”

Really? I couldn’t feel it.

Little did I know, that I would have to get very used to feeling nothing.

I took a long nap. I woke up and said, “Hey guys–I have to either fart, take a giant poop, or the baby’s coming out. One of those things is not acceptable right now.” The baby was coming. I was 10 cm dilated. Time soon to push. They called my doctor, who arrived and had to tell me, “Stop pushing! I haven’t scrubbed in yet.”

I was bearing down and counting to ten. Breathing. Bearing down and counting to ten. My amazing doula coached me, coached us. It was calm and peaceful. They brought in a mirror. She was coming. And then at 6:35pm I pushed her into the world of oxygen and light.

She was here.

And I felt nothing. When they handed her to me, she felt like someone else’s child. I waited for the gush of joy, and I felt blank.

I had a great pregnancy, and a great birth, but had a nightmare first year of motherhood, instead.

I had no idea I had postpartum depression. It took me months to realize I was in over my head. I told people it was like walking into the ocean step by step holding my child on my head until I was underwater, struggling to keep her alive holding her aloft. I felt like I was dying.

Not until I had the darkest thoughts a new mother could have (wishing my baby didn’t exist–wishing for SIDS), did I pause and think, “This cannot be right.” My OCD was off the chain (obsessing over the sterility of bottles was crippling). I was unable to let my baby go into anyone’s arms but mine. I forced everyone to wash their hands well beyond the first 6 months before handling my child. Still, I waited. I thought the postpartum depression would lift. I waited.

Meanwhile, my daughter thrived. My husband went back to work.

My friends told me I cried when they visited. They said I told them I felt hopeless. I couldn’t get myself to shower. I went days without showering. I tried to go on walks, and went on walks everyday with my baby, but came back so exhausted, I crawled right back into bed.

I pumped in bed. I ate in bed. I slept in bed. I cradled my child in bed. I did not leave that bed almost all year. I begged my husband to stay in bed with me. He resisted.

My daughter thrived. My husband was going to work. My husband was traveling. My husband said he was traveling. My husband said he was out of town. My husband said he could not come home.

I was at pre-pregnancy weight by 3 weeks postpartum. I stopped being able to eat. I couldn’t figure out how to make food and take care of a baby. Food no longer tasted good. I dipped down to the lowest weight since junior high. Clothes started to fall off my body. My wedding ring slipped off my finger.

I hired help. The help didn’t work out. I hired more help, and found I could not let my daughter out of my arms. The help, who has now turned into one of my dearest friends, kept me company. That was help. We watched movies while I sat in bed with my daughter. She washed the bottles, the G*dawful bottles. Did the laundry. Got me food, which I only nibbled.

My friends dropped off food (posole, pasta, tomato sauce, minestrone, eggplant parmigiana). When they left, I would cry with gratitude, but I could not get myself to eat.

My friends emailed me. Texted me.

I walked. I tried to do yoga. I tried to be happy again. I used every tool in my toolbox to overcome my depression.

My husband was no longer coming home except on weekends. Where was he?

My best friend happened to move nearby. We met for a meal, for coffee, for a walk, everyday. I was at the bottom of a well, and my best friend met me at the bottom, and stayed with me in the dark.

I looked up from the bottom of the well. I could see the sky. I knew I had to get up there, somehow. I could hear my baby’s laughter, like a distant bell.

I started wearing makeup again. Tried to pretend. Fake it until you make it. I faked it and faked it and faked it.

I held my daughter. I fed my daughter. I survived each day.

My friend met me at the bottom of the well.

My friends brought me food.

I turned 40. I planned my own birthday party. I woke up so exhausted, I didn’t shower. I put on a dress and some makeup and attended. Faked it. I could not look my husband in the eye.

The postpartum depression did not dissipate. It was now October. I read somewhere that postpartum depression could last 2 years. I couldn’t last that long, I knew.

I called my husband and cried each night. Told him I was dying. He asked “What are you dying from?”

And I said, “I don’t know. I’m dying,” before bursting into tears. I needed help.

He said, “I can’t help you. I’m not coming home for a year.”

I cried until I lost my breath. I’d never felt more alone. I’d never felt so helpless. I had to save myself. And I was fighting a creature I had never before fought. I needed help. I cried. I needed help.

“I can’t last a year,” I said.

“You have to,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ll last 3 weeks.”

Silence.

And so the next day, I called the doctor. “I have postpartum depression,” I said to the receptionist.

“What’s that?”

I had to explain.

I waited and waited and waited for the return calls. The help.

I called and called. And finally, the help came.

And then my life changed. I started climbing out of the well. And my best friend–my friend climbed out, too.

Forever grateful to all who saved my life in 2013.

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

UPDATE (Resources):
There are resources out there–here are a couple, which the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, provided me this morning:

You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.

Postpartum Support International (PSI) is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum
depression, the most common complication of childbirth. They also work to educate family, friends and healthcare providers so that moms and moms-to-be can get the support they need and recover.
Helpline:  800-944-4PPD (4773) or email support@postpartum.net
www.postpartum.net

In New York:
Postpartum Resource Center of New York provides emotional support, educational information and healthcare and support group resources for New York State families.  Free and confidential support including Moms on Call and Family Telephone Support available
Helpline:  Toll-free and State-wide at (855) 631-0001 (Hablamos Espanol)
www.postpartumny.org

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On Opportunity and Unexpected Collaboration

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Busy Mockingbird’s post on art collaboration with her four year old is inspiring. She is an artist. With a sketchbook. All artists know that there is sacred space–for me, that’s a Moleskine or my novel on Scrivener–for Busy Mockingbird, it’s her sketchbook. And you cannot invade sacred space. Nope.

Unless you’re a child. And you are all, “Sacred space? Huh? No. All space is shared space with me!”

And that’s what happened with Busy Mockingbird. Her daughter took over her sketchbook:

No longer had I drawn my first face (I love drawing from old black & white movie stills) had she swooped over to me with an intense look. “OOOH! Is that a NEW sketchbook? Can I draw in that too, mama?” I have to admit, the girl knows good art supplies when she sees them. I muttered something about how it was my special book, how she had her own supplies and blah blah blah, but the appeal of new art supplies was too much for her to resist. In a very serious tone, she looked at me and said, “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away if you can’t share.”

Oh no she didn’t! Girlfriend was using my own mommy-words at me! Impressed, I agreed to comply. “I was going to draw a body on this lady’s face,” I said. “Well, I will do it,” she said very focused, and grabbed the pen. I had resigned myself to let that one go. To let her have the page, and then let it go. I would just draw on my own later, I decided. I love my daughter’s artwork, truly I do! But this was MY sketchbook, my inner kid complained.

Not surprisingly, I LOVED what she drew. I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman. It was beautiful, it was carefree, and for as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created. Flipping through my sketchbook, I found another doodle of a face I had not yet finished. She drew a body on it, too, and I was enthralled. It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers. And she LOVED being a part of it. She never hesitated in her intent. She wasn’t tentative. She was insistent and confident that she would of course improve any illustration I might have done. …And the thing is, she DID.

The result of the spontaneous collaboration is ASTOUNDING. Busy Mockingbird draws the human heads, and her daughter draws the bodies. This means dinosaur bodies. And slug bodies. And lobster bodies. And human bodies, too. But different. Together, they are amazing. Seriously, go take a look.

I was mesmerized. Mostly, I was hopeful.

You see, I’ve been, for the most part, miserable these days. I love my kid, but my life has been turned upside down. Inside out. Gutted. Meaningful fiction writing has been impossible. Sleep has only just recently been attained (and nowhere near pre-baby levels). I know, it’s only been 7.5 months. But still. My writing life is in shreds. I want to get back to my novel. How do other mom-writers do it? Is everyone lying?

I made a crack that said Busy Mockingbird’s post made me fantasize about my daughter finishing my novel.

Busy Mockingbird has some of the collaboration prints up for sale. I bought a print to remind me of the potential of collaboration with my daughter, if not literally, figuratively. And to tell myself that motherhood doesn’t equal loss. And to continue to give in and let go. There may be unexpected gains in doing so. This is new space. New sacred space. Scary as hell, and expansive as not-hell. There’s gotta be good stuff here. I’ll keep the faith.

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The Chrysalis; Giving In

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I gave in.

I struggled against the tides and tried to write, tried to resume the life I had, while juggling the mothering of a newborn. I hired a nanny. The nanny didn’t work out. I fired the nanny. I was left by myself, which was kind of better than having a nanny-that-wasn’t-working-out.

I was trying to write. Trying to compartmentalize the fact that I was now a mother. Ignoring it, in order to write, and resume my former identity. Struggling to make elaborate meals (never happened), when slapping some cream cheese on a bagel (un-toasted) was the best I could do. Maybe this is what people mean when they say “trying to have it all.”

It was like swimming upstream. And in the end, I hadn’t made much progress. I didn’t get any further upstream. I think I ended up downstream anyway. Didn’t get any writing done. Didn’t get any reading done. For all the sacrifice–for all my exertion and for all the time I didn’t spend connecting with my daughter, I was left unfulfilled and exhausted. So I decided to go with the flow. Follow the water. Let my life lead me.

Frankly speaking, I was too exhausted to do otherwise. I was beaten into submission. I looked at my daughter and whispered, “P, you got me beat. We’re just going to do it your way.”

This resulted in many many days in which I sat in bed with my kid, napping when she did, alternating between feeding, diapering, burping, pumping, and then napping with her when I could. Some days, that is pretty much what I did all damn day. All day. All night. Just that. Maybe get up and load the dishwasher full of bottles or do a load of laundry. Watch a TV show. But pretty much, just that. Especially when my husband was out of town on business trips.

(And why am I writing this in past tense? Because this is what I’m doing everyday, even now). My biggest thing last week was ordering a rice cooker online, because I was so desperate for hot food and I couldn’t track a stove with a baby. And deal with being chastised for clogging up the holes in the burners with boiled-over-rice-paste-water. I was So Excited about this rice cooker. I tracked its progression on UPS, salivating as it neared. I tweeted about The New Rice Cooker. One of my best friends emailed me, worried about what he perceived was increasing desperation. No, I told him, I’m okay. Just Really Excited about a Rice Cooker, because you see–my life has condensed down to a rice cooker. I’m not unhappy! I told him. Just! A little! Crazy! About a rice! Cooker! Hot! Food! Ohdear, I told him. I may be a little crazy.

I did worry about my writing. About returning to my novel revision. I dreamt about making a meal from scratch. And I fretted about who I’d become–just some clichéd stay-at-home-mom with unwashed hair, making no contributions to society, obsessing about breast milk. But that’s kind of like letting the river carry you and straining your neck to look at the river bank from which you originated. So I forced myself to just be, again. I stared at my baby. I smiled at her. I had conversations comprised of back and forth cooing (what was I saying? I had no idea, but my baby seemed pleased). I gave in. I forgot what day of the week it was.

I haven’t given up. I’ve given in. I acknowledge the different journey, the new journey, under my body. I acknowledge that I have no map for this new place. And I basically say, “Fuck it.” I am going to give up control and just explore without agenda and without an end.

Good things happen when I say, “Fuck it.” Excellent things happen, actually. But I’ve never done it simultaneously with giving in.

Giving in made things a lot more peaceful; to just be with my kid, make my mind a blank slate, and see what would happen. In short, go with the ease. Nothing kind of happened. Everything kind of happened. My life became little milestones comprised of minutiae–feedings, diapers, burps, naps. Picking out her outfits. Shopping online. Looking out the windows. Putting the baby in the sling and getting the mail. Maybe walking up and down my block. And yet these little things are kind of huge.

And–little surprises from the outside world are coming to me. An email from a former student, thanking me for inspiring her. (Which of course in turn, inspired me). And my writing community came to me, threw me opportunities. My friends sending me galleys of their new books (holding a book in my hands makes me feel human again). The world had not forgotten me. I should not forget me. I was able to sequester a little bit of energy. I started to read in snippets. I wrote this blog post while the baby napped (and she woke up right as I finished writing this post, as if this post were meant to be).

It’s my time in a chrysalis. As a writer. As a human being.

Making the most of my time in the chrysalis. By giving into it.

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Mother’s Day: still complicated

Mother’s Day is simple and straightforward for some, and complicated for others. While I know that happiness largely abounds on Mother’s Day–it’s also a day that brings up loss and grief for others.

Thought I’d share a post from my archives that shares how I feel about Mother’s Day.

In the last year, I have made changes so that my life is more fulfilling and busy and joyful, so my grief is a bit lessened. (Also, it doesn’t hurt that I now live in a place where strollers are hard to spot). But it doesn’t make the grief go away.

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Articulating Pain: Expectations on Expecting

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There’s an iPhone4 advert series that shows various people talking to each other thru FaceTime, an iPhone app that allows videoconferencing between phones. In one of the adverts (youtube link here), a woman calls a man, with a facial expression that I can only describe as Infinite Glee and Joy and Smugness; she begins by saying, “Hey do you got a minute? Are you alone?”

The glee on her face betrayed the understatement. F*ck you, I thought. I saw it coming right then.

“Well, you know that THING we’ve been working on for awhile now?” she continued. Ohgawd. Here it comes.

The man replies, “No way.” Yah, me too. I flipped off the television screen.

The bird didn’t stop the inevitable. She continued (because she’s an advertisement on television, not a real person), “Mmmhrmmm–You’re gonna be a dad!” I knew it. Argh.

I.hate.that.iPhone4 advertisement. It smacks of all that frustrates me about societal expectations of women and couples without children. That conversation, that situation (of being “with child”) is supposed to be the symbol of The Greatest Joy.

This advertisement bothered me. I went ahead and tweeted, “I just flipped off the iPhone 4 commercial where the woman tells her husband via phone video, ‘You’re gonna be a dad.'” And found that I was not alone in my frustration. Really not alone.

And then this morning I read Eve’s amaaaazing post on the Empty Womb and Self Actualization (there’s an actual psychological pyramid of needs by Kenrick that puts parenting at the top, thereby equating parenting with self actualizationg! zomg). In her post, she details the psychological aspects of the issue and offers a few suggestions, one being that parents share the downs as well as the ups of parenthood to the world and do the justice of offering a balanced portrait (instead of smugness). Her post explained my frustration and anger with the iPhone 4 advertisement. And it helped me articulate some of my personal thoughts on societal messages about Parenthood as Ultimate Joy and Self Actualization.

When I was studying with an Orthodox rabbi for conversion to Judaism, I learned many things. For example, I learned the laws of kashrut, the debates within kashrut, I read the Kuzari and learned history and learned to ask questions (being Asian, one of the greatest hurdles to my learning process was that I initially found it very very difficult to question an authority figure or an overriding law, which is precisely the method of learning a rabbi embraces). I studied for five years. I learned things with which I had conflict, like the Orthodox Jewish stance with homosexuality (which officially is not in support of homosexuality in case you needed that stated).

And I read a line in a book by a female author describing Jewish life that sticks with me to this day: “A childless couple in the community is pitied.” I had never seen it spelled out like that before. It stung even then, before I knew I would spend over 10 years trying to conceive without success.

It stung because it is true. A childless couple, or childless person, is pitied.

Pitied. Not accepted. Not extolled. Not empathized. Not sympathized. Pitied. To see as lesser, to feel sorry for.

As in, missing out on The Greatest Joy.

And I am reminded of this constantly. From a guest at a wedding sitting to my right, who inevitably asks, “Do you have children?” To which I answer No. To which he replies “Why not? You really should have children. They are great. You should have children.” To which I decide to reply Because I can’t have children. Thank you. (I have many responses; this is one I save for the truly obnoxious because it is a conversation killer). To which he continues, “You should try IVF, have you heard of IVF?” To which I *want* to reply What is IVF? I have never heard of IVF! But instead I reply It doesn’t always work. To which he responds “Yes it does! C’mon, you can’t tell me it fails! Everyone I know who’s had it done, conceived!” To which I want to reply are you really that f*cking stupid but instead say No, it only works a percentage of the time. You should look into your facts…and on and on and on. I can only summarize the conversation as a painful exchange, one that begins with the man extolling The Greatest Joy, urging membership, and then insisting on ways to join, all the while showing utter ignorance.

Someone who is a part of my daily life came up to me not too long ago and said with utter sincerity (and joy), “You don’t really finish growing up until you have a child.” He knows I have been trying to have a child for years and years. I was silent. I wasn’t sure that was true. But I didn’t have a rebuttal until months and months later when a friend of mine told me, “You should have told him you don’t really finish growing up until you’ve had a stroke at the age of 33!” That’s an awesome line from an awesome friend. A little too late. But it gave me a good laugh and helped me imagine a different end to that exchange.

I have had to hide the status updates of so many of my friends on Facebook, because of what I call “smug Mommy updates.” It makes me feel I am lesser, even if they don’t feel they’re consciously doing so. There are mommy friends I haven’t hid, and those are the friends whose updates are more balanced: not only are their kids cherubic at times, their kids also slip out of their diapers in the middle of the night, roll around in their doody and smear doody on the walls. Their kids are beautiful and they have videos of kids singing…and their kids also have rockin’ tantrums. This is real, this is beautiful, this does not make me feel lesser, and does not fill me with heartbreak.

Even an article in nymag entitled “All Joy No Fun; Why Parents Hate Parenting”, one that portrays parenthood as being absent of fun and enjoyment…ultimately defends parenthood as a bastion of Joy.

At times I am bitter, but most of the time, I am not bitter. I am happy. I am a joyful person who happens to not have a child, and who wants a child (one! I just want one!). My infertility brings me pain; as far as I know, pain can coincide with happiness and joy. I am happy for my friends with children or who are pregnant, even if sometimes I can’t stop crying while saying I am happy for them. Sometimes I wonder if my grief stems from societal expectations and pressure as much as it comes from within me. My grief probably is complicated by these societal messages and this feeling of exclusion as much as it stems from a real desire for a child.

An addendum: After I wrote this post, I kept thinking about all the myths out there and how they are furthered by the stupidity of people like…screenwriters. There is nothing that has infuriated me further than the Sex and the City movie (the first one) where Charlotte is suddenly pregnant after having adopted her first child, Lily. The screenwriters even had the gall to have her character squeal, “I’m pregnant. I guess if you relax and adopt like they say, you will finally get pregnant on your own!” That they turned her character and her infertility from something meaningful (her conversion to Judaism in the TV series, although a bit speedy/easy, was something that rang a little true…and her struggles with infertility even truer) to something that was an insulting cliché disappointed me. That people turn to me and say stuff like, “If you stop trying, you’ll get pregnant/Why don’t you adopt?/I know someone (probably Charlotte) who adopted and then got pregnant,” is just so sad. And after a little bit of googling, I’ve found I’m not the only person who thinks/feels this way.

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