adoption, family

The Difference Between Their Birthmom and Me: An Honest Conversation About Addiction

As many of you know I recently herniated a disc in my spine. Since then I’ve gone to PT, had cortisone injections, and took pain medication after pain medication in order to perform the most basic movements.

Today I couldn’t make it any more. My surgical consult isn’t until the end of the month. I landed in the ER at the hospital where my neurosurgeon practices. They consulted with him and put me on some heavy duty meds normally given by IV in the hospital. I am now going back tomorrow for an emergency appointment with the surgeon.

I have learned something huge through all of this. The medication today is only thing that helps to somewhat dull this pain. It isn’t gone, it still feels like I live with searing hot daggers lodged in my spine. I have shooting, squeezing, blood-curdling muscle spasms all down my right leg. The pain is like fire and acid and nightmares too terrible to remember. I need this medication they gave me. I cannot make it without the medication I got today. I am living in pervasive, festering, agony. I feel that my life and my sanity are forfeit if I do not have the tools to survive until the appointment tomorrow. But I will have the appointment.

The good news for me is that soon this will be over. There are medical interventions available to me in order to help. As unbearable as this is, I know it will get better for me. Here’s the thing. What if it didn’t? Re-read the last paragraph. Re-read it and replace the pain in my spine with the pain of depression. The pain of mental illness. The pain of addiction. For some people that pain is real. There is no emergency appointment with a surgeon tomorrow that will make things all better right away for an addict, a person with a mental illness, a person with a deep and unyielding depression. These people? These addicts? They aren’t so different than me. That second paragraph is probably the closest I will ever come to walking a mile in their shoes.

Today I am humbled. Today is the day that I can honestly empathize with the birthmother of my children. I may wish her well and pray for her and hope she finds healing. Yes, I do all of those things. But do I understand the things she did? Can I fathom the things she left undone? Do I, in my heart of hearts, believe that I am somehow better? It’s an ugly thing to admit about myself but, yes, sometimes I do. Tomorrow I will have answers. Tomorrow I will have my way out.

Let me take today to be humbled. Let me take today to understand, at least a little bit. Let me take this horrible day to realize that we are not so far from those we may judge. We are not so far from those addicts, those hurting, or those in need. We are all human. If only we all had the promise of help tomorrow. For this experience I am truly grateful.

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adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Disrupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, adoption disruption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, parenting

The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

Behind closed doors: Rosie O'Donnell's adopted daughter says her mom is a ' phony' in public who would put on a happy face, but then ignore her kids at home

Dear Rosie,

I am sorry for your loss. You have lost the most precious thing to any mother. You have lost a child. My hope for you is that Chelsea will eventually realize what her actions have done. In the meantime, be strong, Mama. From one adoptive mother to another, I feel for you. In the midst of everything I am sure that your biggest concern is for your child. Isn’t that always the way? We put them first. We are mothers.

I am sure I’m not the only Trauma Mama out there with a strong suspicion that your daughter may suffer from an attachment disorder of some sort. Of course it’s not my business, nor is it the public’s business. However, when it’s out in the media, I just hope people consider all sides. We never talk about RAD in public, do we? Mental illness is considered to be private, a family secret to be concealed. I wonder why? Adoption is wonderful, but adoption is also hard.

It’s curious to me that at 17, she had a 25-year-old boyfriend with a history of drug involvement. I can see where any parent would try to circumvent this kind of unhealthy relationship. I can also see where a mother might distance the family from a birth parent making public accusations. I believe that in this case the mother even admitted to being on heroin at the time of pregnancy and the birth of Chelsea. I am sorry for your daughter that the start of her life was so traumatic.

I have seen Reactive Attachment Disorder up close and it does terrible things to a child. An attachment challenged child will push away the very people they love the most. They will view love, affection, and nurturing as the enemy. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the driving force that causes our children to seek relationship after relationship with friends, family, and romantic partners, only to sabotage them purposefully. Reactive Attachment Disorder whispers in the ear of our children that they will never be safe, never be loved. It tells them to make claims to the rest of the world that they are happy and well-adjusted. Then it traps them in permanent loneliness, causing them to lash out against all who try to love them. it is a war we fight against the disorder.

There has been a lot of media around the “different side” of you that Chelsea saw at home. She has “exposed” the fact that you liked arts and crafts and that you presented a happier face to the world. Don’t all of us present a happy face to the general public? Especially in times of strife or turmoil at home? I know I do. I love all of my children and I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the truth and it is what I tell others who ask me about adoption. The truth that I don’t tell, that I hide from the public, is that sometimes it is really, really hard. I may blog about it, but I can’t share within my immediate circle. At home, we battle against RAD.

Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. Our children leave us either physically or emotionally. Then we are left wondering if they will be alright. I have to believe they will be. The hardest part is letting go and seeing where they land. Chelsea went to her birth mother and then back to her boyfriend. She is probably in the windstorm of Reactive Attachment DIsorder. I’m sure she will be tossed around from place to place, never finding enough to fill the void inside. Eventually, I believe she will come home. To you and to your family. I believe this because I want to believe I will see my boys again. I must believe that they can heal.  I wish only safety and healing for you and your family. Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. I hope it loses this time.

Love,

Another RAD Soldier

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family, marriage, parenting

Choosing Forever: Adventures in Marriage and Adoption

Wedding_rings

Here is your forever home. Here are your forever parents. Here is your forever family. In the world of foster care and adoption we toss around the word “forever” a lot. We use it liberally and sprinkle it in to the interactions we have with the children we are adopting. But what does this concept mean to our children? 

I wonder if many of us have stopped to consider our own personal paths to our “forever?” I know one thing for sure. I know that Luke is my “forever.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever home.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever family.” I have known this from almost the first week we started dating 8 years ago.

But how did we get there? There certainly wasn’t a social worker assigning us to be a match. We both chose to walk the path of “forever” on our own. I had the advantage of a preconceived notion, a schema, a background upon which I based my beliefs about marriage. In the world I grew up in, such things are possible. 

Luke and I were friends before we started dating. We had known each other for about a year before I asked him to run away with me. That’s right, I asked him to run away with me. During the time of our friendship, I’d always had a crush on him. We were both in other relationships and so we remained friends and nothing more.

After my relationship ended, I figured it was now or never. If I didn’t take the leap, I knew I’d end up regretting it or the rest of my life. So I called Luke and asked him to run away with me. He compromised and offered to take me on a date. We went out the very next night, and the next, and the next. We’ve never been apart since.  A year to the day after our first date, we were married. We just knew. 

Fast forward to 9 years later and I realize that the reason I so firmly believe in happily ever after is because I have mine. He is right by my side where he belongs. And so, my schema starts. I have lived with the certainty and the joy of his love. We are family by choice, but I never question that we are truly one family. Luke is a sure thing, my forever.

When I try to view this from my children’s schema I simply can’t. The past has already taught them that love can be hurtful and scary and not to be counted on. We are their family by choice but they didn’t choose us. Not really. If anything, it seems to me that adoptive parents have many more choices than adopted children. How can I expect them to love us back with reciprocity? I can’t.  That is a whole new foreign language for them. 

They are thrust into a situation they can’t comprehend.  To me, family is forever. It has always been that way. To them, family is temporary at best. We must shift their entire thinking.

The foundation of our family is the marriage Luke and I have. My love for my husband reminds me that I am worthy of being loved. His kisses, his hand in the small of my back, his gentle words, tell me that I am not alone on this journey. No matter how rough the road is I am comforted by him. I find joy in him. No matter how others feel about me, I am able to bask in the image he holds of me (albeit, I admit, he has a rather inflated view of me!)

We need to nurture and treasure this connection. We need to be reminded of how reciprocal relationships work. We need to show our children that fairy tales ain’t got nothin’ on this family!

I can give unconditional love to our little chickens, but for now I will have to receive unconditional love only from my husband. What more could I possibly expect of them after such a relatively short time in a healthy family? 

I can only hope that one day our children will learn to love and be loved the way Luke and I do. I hope we can re-teach them the meaning of “forever.” But until that time? I can see why they wouldn’t believe. I can see why choosing this family may not always seem so permanent. That’s OK for now. Luke and I have enough faith to go around.

** Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 
**If you’ve ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure! 

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adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Tales from Our Bathroom: Adventures in Trauma Triggers and PTSD

fear ladder

Playing Uno in the bathroom? Go Fish? Perhaps a bathroom snack of apples and peanut butter? Sounds great, pull up a bath mat and let’s get started! Yes, that’s me, attempting card games with Little Mary in the bathroom floor. The bathroom is one of her biggest triggers. Right now we are attempting to gradually expose her to the bathroom in a non-scary way. We need to provide this corrective experience in order to lessen her fear.

In fact, Carl and Sean have the bathroom as a trigger as well. Whatever happened to them there must have been terrifying to stay with them years after being out of their bio home. Taking a shower or a bath can cause them to re-experience the trauma they suffered in this location. Then their “fight or flight” response kicks in and they panic.

For Mary, any added stress or anxiety in her life can exacerbate her fear of the bathroom. Recently, she has been showing us her elevated fear levels by fussing and tantruming before it’s time to take a shower. Mary has also been avoiding going to the bathroom unless someone waits outside the door and talks her through it. When she is finished she flushes, jumps off of the toilet, and bolts out of the room. She refuses to wipe, but she will wash her hands in the kitchen sink.Her fears include the mirror, having the door all the way closed, being alone, and being naked.

To alleviate her fears we have implemented the following:

  1. The door is always cracked open.
  2. Someone waits outside. Sometimes all of us wait outside. And we sing silly songs loudly and off-key.
  3. We play soothing music.
  4. We send in back-up. Mermaid Barbie to the rescue.
  5. We colored all over the mirror with Crayola Window markers. We made encouraging messages and silly pictures.
  6. We taped wallet-sized pictures of me on the mirror, next to the toilet paper roll, and yes, even in the shower. That way mom can be with Mary the whole time. Creepy? Maybe. But we’ll try anything.
  7. We let her go into the shower with a dirty shirt that has been worn by either Luke or me. This way it has our comforting smell, and she has the job to “wash it.”
  8. We play car-ride type games to activate the “thinking” area of her brain, because her emotional-survival brain is taking over. My favorite is the ABC game. You take turns naming your favorite food starting with “A is for ___” Next, the other person takes a turn but they have to repeat all of the other letters and foods that have been named, before adding a new one. You have to focus on your memory, language, and coming up with a food name. This can be awesomely distracting if you can engage the child before they become too escalated.

Despite all of our interventions, Mary had an incident one day when she refused to brush her teeth. Luke and I stood outside with the bathroom door open and promised to stay with her while she went in. She couldn’t do it. She screamed like she was being murdered. As Luke attempted to talk her down from her sobs, and I attempted to comfort Carl, she switched into “flight” mode. She turned and ran across the hallway with her head down and head-butted the door to the basement. Twice. It happened so fast we couldn’t even catch her and we were right next to her. I ended up in the ER with her, making sure she didn’t have a concussion. She has a bump and a bruise, but otherwise she is physically alright. The poor thing was so scared of brushing her teeth, that she preferred a head wound.

Currently Mary is in the midst of her Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). She is writing a narrative with her therapist about the trauma she experienced in her bio home. I’m no therapist but I will try to paraphrase what I’ve learned about it. This particular kind of therapy helps the child to confront and process their past trauma with the support of a therapist. Our children’s therapist is amazing. She showed us (including Little Mary) a graph representing the research on what happens when a person represses and tries not to think about traumatic events in their past. When the past event is ignored and not thought about, temporary relief is gained. However, over time, the fear grows into epic proportions when the child is confronted with any reminders of the traumatic events. This causes all kids of maladaptive response behaviors, including Mary’s tantrums. She is a survivor and her brain’s “fire alarm” is going off, even when there is no fire. With TF-CBT, she is opening up old wounds, in order to heal them. Exposure therapy is intended to help her face her triggers, in this case, the bathroom, a little at a time.

In her last session, Mary was able to express why the bathroom was so scary. This is progress for her. Her therapist helped her to come up with a fear thermometer and a fear ladder. This helped Mary to see exactly how afraid she was in what circumstances. When Mary was able to express and quantify her feelings in this way, she gained a measure of control over her fear. A million thanks to this therapist who is putting Mary back in charge of her emotions. I believe there will come a day when she is no longer at the mercy of her past, her triggers, and her “big feelings.”

She still cries when she gets into the shower and screams for a minute before washing up. We will continue to reassure her that she is in a safe home now. Until she internalizes this safe feeling, we will be there. You can find me right outside the bathroom. Or inside, playing Hungry-Hungry-Hippo! We will take it one day at a time and we just keep working on it. She will never have to face these fears alone, ever again.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure, today!

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

We Like Big Butts!: Adventures in Healing for Our Family

littlesfair

Does it get better? Will there be mornings when I stop calling for Sean not to miss his bus? Maybe a morning where I remember he is gone before I start checking that he is ready for school?

This weekend Luke and I took our Littles to the “Big E” along with Seth and Catlyn. We went on rides and played games and ate impossibly unhealthy foods. We laughed and the children caught bead necklaces when the parade went by. We stuffed ourselves full of Kettle corn and zoomed down a slide twice as tall as our house!

Luke grinned and belly laughed with me and kissed me with abandon. Our kids squealed, “Ewww! Gross!” as children are supposed to do.

In short, we had fun.

We did pass by certain rides or food booths that brought up memories from last year. That is when I thought of Sean and I missed him. We saw things Marcus would love and I missed him, too. I wonder of they look back and think about all of the fun we’ve had as a family? Do they miss us as well?

At the same time, we saw our Littles relax and bond. Carl held Mary’s hand to make sure she wouldn’t be afraid. When they went on the little roller coaster together, she got so scared that she screamed for me the  entire ride. The whole time Carl held her hand and told her she wouldn’t die and that he was there and he loves her. That story is beautiful to me. It reinforces that siblings belong together. It lets me know that they are healing.

Yfootballcfootball

The next day was their football game. Luke and I were sure to change our Little’s names on the roster so they would be announced with our family last name over the loudspeakers. After the game Carl was so proud that they announced his name during his many, many tackles. Mary said, “Yeah, they knew who I was, too!” She also commented that while she was cheer leading, she saw me jumping up and down shouting, “That’s my son!” to strangers.

Despite all of the turmoil, I think they are beginning to feel secure. I suspect they are attaching. During in-home therapy the littles were asked if they had any questions as to why Sean and Marcus aren’t living with us. Carl asked, “Why were they so mean?” I did my best to explain that Sean and Marcus were scared to get close to a mom and dad because they had been hurt so much before by a mom and dad. I said they were trying to do things that would push us away so we wouldn’t love them anymore. Carl looked incredulous. “Well it didn’t work!” he exclaimed.

As for Mary? She had a question about the family, too. She asked, “Mommy? Why does Daddy like big butts so much? ‘Cause he Really likes yours!!!” And if THAT is the most pressing question about our family? Well then, I guess we are doing alright! Although maybe Luke should lay off singing Sir Mix-A-Lot to me….but this Mommy’s got back and she cannot lie!!

yarypigs

**Names have been hanged to protect the privacy of those involved.
If you’ve ever thought about fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure!

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Seeking Sean: Understanding Why He Can’t

book

The Mother’s Day gift Sean made me with a deck of cards.

Why? Why on earth would he despise being in our family?? I have compiled a list of the horrors our family inflicted upon our teenage son, Sean. The perils of family life he faced include, but are not limited to:

1. Having to shower on the daily. Yes, that’s correct, we do enforce proper hygiene particularly for those in the throes of puberty.

2. Family dinners. That’s it. We just sit down at the table as a family. You don’t have to eat but you have to show up.

3. Taking out the trash. His only chore.

4. Be respectful to your family members, at least decently so.

Before he left, these seemed to be his triggers. I feel like the real list of complaints he has boil down to one thing only. The revised (and I believe truthful) list is this:

1. Having a mom and dad who set limits and enforce boundaries.

He couldn’t get used to it. He complained about it all the time. Ever since Marcus left he began threatening to do the same. It was usually about how if he didn’t get what he wanted or do as he pleased, then he didn’t want the family.

We sat down that day and made a little book about what our family responsibilities and roles are. Mom, Dad, the littles, and Sean all had a page. We wrote it together. We talked about it and agreed to it. That was the last thing we did with Sean, as a family.

Now, his place is empty at the dinner table each night. The last I heard he actually went into the same foster home Marcus is in. At least, Marcus will be there until October 24th, when he turns 18. Then he is going to his older bio-sisters home for a “big party.” Part of me is happy they are together. Part of me is cringing inside because my 14-yr-old baby is back in “the system.”

I want to make sure he is going to therapy. Given the history of Marcus’ mental health care during foster placement, I doubt it. I wonder who goes to him at night when he has nightmares? Who watches the cooking channel with him in the evenings? Who will hang up his art work and buy him all of those expensive art supplies? Who will hug him and tell him he is a wonderful boy?

No one. That is what a mom does. That is what he did not want. Sean used to wait for me each night for almost 45 minutes while I put the littles to bed and sat there until they slept. I didn’t want them to be scared. He didn’t want to be scared, either.

We would watch a movie or HGTV. The last movie we saw was “A Monster in Paris.” It was an animated musical and Sean sang all of the songs while cuddled up. I didn’t make him snuggle up or hug me. I didn’t chase him around to watch TV. He craved that time with me. Sean used to make little art projects for me and he would just glow when I put them on the fridge. Being his mother is rewarding but also exhausting at times. I would tuck him in at bedtime and rub his back. I would try to leave 2 or 3 times and he would beg for me to stay a little longer because he was scared. Just like a small child.

Some nights (when he was especially anxious or triggered) I was so exhausted my eyes would close and I would nod off while standing up. It took so long to put him down for the night. Now I lie down early to read or write before bed. I have time in the evenings. I still wish I appreciated the times he needed me, no matter how exhausting.

Sean didn’t like limits and rules. He didn’t like that Mom and Dad set them. He didn’t like it that Mom and Dad had “off duty” time at night to be with just each other. Sean wanted to be our only child, soaking up all of our attention. That tells me that he does want to be loved. However, he wanted to be our equal. Having control and being separate from “the kids” was a big sticking point for him. That tells me that he absolutely does not understand love.

Having a mom and dad is hard for all of our kids. It’s a foreign concept to them.  That would be like someone dropping off an exotic elephant and expecting me to know what to do with it. Even though showering and taking out trash are not torture, it must feel like it to someone who just can’t understand. The care, the limits, the very oversight of us must have smothered him.

I saw him one last time when he was in-patient. I brought him his favorite sketch books. I said what I needed to say. He looked bored, indifferent even. But I know my Sean and I saw that he was holding back tears. I was a mess just crying and distraught.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: I really do love you, you know. Very much.

Sean: Yeah. (Eye roll) I love you, too.

Me: I want you to know that you are very, very wanted. It was never a question of that. We always wanted you.

Sean: Yeah. I know.

Me: I’m so sad that you didn’t want to be part of a family. That it was so hard for you. I’m sorry it worked out like this.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I want you to be happy. I really hope that you find what it is you’re looking for.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I don’t know what else to say to you. I promise we will take very good care of the littles.

Sean: I know.

Me: You’re a great kid, Sean.

(Long pause)

Me: Do you want me to go?

Sean: Yeah.

That was the last of it. I can accept that he doesn’t want parents right now. I can accept that he wants to be with Marcus or maybe be like Marcus. I can even accept that he doesn’t want contact with us. He didn’t need to say anything to me that day. I needed to say what I said to him. What I cannot accept is the facade that being in a family was so awful for him that he just doesn’t care. I know he cared. It must have been harder than I can imagine but I know that it was good for him to be with us.

I can’t say if he will ever be with us again. Who knows? I can say that this experience was the hardest. It taught me that what we are doing with these kids, for however log we have them, is worth it. My joy, my love, my memories? They are worth the soul-shattering grief I am feeling right now. That time was worth everything. Being “mom” is worth everything to me.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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