Posts Tagged ‘ adoptive parents ’

Dad tells son (11) he’s adopted

An adoptive dad (who wishes to remain anonymous) reveals how telling his son the truth about his adoption has changed their family dynamics for the better…

I have two adopted children: my daughter, now 18, was adopted at the age of ten, and I adopted my son, now 11, when he was just three years old.

My daughter knew her biological father and had some contact with him before I adopted her, but they never really enjoyed a close relationship. After I adopted my daughter, she decided to break contact with her biological father altogether, even though I never discouraged their relationship. I wanted to make sure that she knew she could have contact with him if she wanted to.

My son did not know he was adopted until recently, when we decided he was old enough to know the truth. I was extremely reluctant to tell him about his adoption at first because he and I had a very difficult relationship, and I had also heard about so many adoptees who found out late in life about their adoption and the pain this caused.

I guess one will never know for sure when it’s the perfect time to tell someone that he/she is adopted; my wife and I made our decision based on our son’s emotional maturity level and readiness to hear this sensitive information. We asked a close friend, who is a preacher and counselor, to facilitate the process for us, as we knew our son would need access to someone he could trust when this life-changing information was revealed to him.

We approached the process as a family, and included my adopted daughter to support our son and be there for him should he have any questions or concerns. Although it was difficult at first, we believe that we can build a better family structure without having to pretend that we are something we are not.

My wife and I both suspected that Nathan (name changed) knew I was not his biological father, but I don’t think he understood his adoption and the complexity of the situation. When the facilitator revealed the information to him, he was not surprised, but became very emotional. That he was not surprised confirmed that he suspected the truth, but the complexity of the situation made him emotional.

As we spoke, the facilitator continually checked that Nathan understood what we were trying to tell him by asking him for feedback and examples. One comment Nathan made was that he knew I loved him, because of what we do and share together and that if I didn’t love him as my child, I would not have to do what I was doing for him then.

As a psychologist, I appreciated the facilitator’s effort to continually “check-in” with Nathan during the session to ensure he was okay and reassure him of the love our family’s and my, as his adoptive father, love for him. Nathan cried a lot while we talked, not because of his adoption, but because his mother was very emotional and he was the focus of attention in a serious matter.

This session firstly made me feel that I can be a father without having to pretend that I’m someone I’m not: I could be Nathan’s adoptive father and no longer pretend to be his biological father. Some may wonder why this is so important, and it’s difficult to explain, but it was important for me as I don’t have any biological children. Although I wanted to, I have come to accept that I will never have any. Pretending that Nathan was my biological child constantly reminded me of the fact that I do not have biological children and that I was living a lie.

Also, pretending to be someone I wasn’t caused me to push the children away, as indirectly and subconsciously I blamed them for my not having biological children. However, by telling and living the truth of being their adoptive father, I can make peace with not having biological children and be the real father to my children that God intended me to be.

For Nathan, not much has changed; he does not blame anyone or feel unloved. His standing in our family remains the same and he still regards me as his only father. He has not asked about his biological father and we don’t think he will for a while yet, but we believe that when he does, he will be ready to understand more about this complex situation. For now, he knows that he is adopted, and that this doesn’t change our love for him – he is our son, regardless of who his biological father is.

Should he want more clarity and information on his biological father later in life, we will support his decision, as we did with our daughter. We will never prevent our children from contacting with their biological fathers if they choose to do so.

Unexpectedly, telling Nathan about his adoption has positively changed my relationship with my daughter. We communicate better, trust each other more and talk about things we never could before. I believe that although my daughter knew about her adoption, she also never realised how much she gained by having a “real” father who cares for and loves her, and how much having a father and mother who love each other has changed her life for the better.

What was discussed with Nathan was not a surprise to her, as she already knew about it, but I believe that what her and her brother’s adoption has meant to them has helped to change her previously negative and antagonistic attitude and behaviour.

For my wife, the biological mother of our children, this session has helped her to realise what I was going through as a “secret” adoptive father. Her relationship with Nathan has also changed for the better – previously she always tried to protect him from the truth, to the extent of becoming over-protective, which hampered Nathan’s emotional growth as he was overly dependent on his mother.

I firmly believe that the truth has set us all free from pretending and living a lie. Now we are free to be who we really are and to build on a family unit regardless of the past. Finally, we can start building a family based on truth and trust. Because it’s not the blood in your veins, but the love in your heart that makes you a family.

Waiting to adopt? Please don’t give up

“My earnest plea to all prospective adoptive parents is don’t give up. The adoption procedure is fraught with difficult obstacles but see it through. God has a special place in His heart for people who take care of orphans (James 1:27).”

I was addressing a group of around twenty at a meeting of the Pretoria Adoption Support Group. I wasn’t scheduled to speak. I had only been invited to sell copies of my book, the proceeds of which were to be donated to the Southern Africa Bible College.

But as I listened to the discussion going on around me, I began to sense a rising sense of frustration among the audience, comprised primarily of pre and post adoptive parents.

The topic under discussion was the latest amendments to the South African Children’s Act 2007 and how these affect the adoption process.

I listened as an experienced adoption social worker explained the rationale behind the extensive waiting periods prospective parents must endure before a baby is placed with its adoptive family, and how every decision made by a social worker has to be done with “the best interests of the child” in mind.

It wasn’t long into her presentation before someone in the audience posed a question, which was quickly followed by another, and another. Although the social worker responded well to each one, it soon became apparent that the Act, although an improvement on its predecessor, remains fraught with flaws.

Under the new Act, babies only “become adoptable” after 60 days, the social worker explained. After this period, the birth mother has an additional 30 days in which to rescind her decision to give up her baby. Factor in the time required by the Act to search for birth fathers, and that they are also afforded 30 days to give their consent to the adoption, and it can be months before a child is eventually placed in their adoptive parents’ arms for the first time. For abandoned babies, the waiting period can be even longer, as the Act affords the birth mother, father and even extended family members ample time to come forward to claim the baby. By then, adoptive parents may be faced with serious bonding issues with their adopted child.

“Government adoption agencies expect us to wait months before placing a baby in our arms, so who can blame couples for choosing to work with private social workers who give them a newborn baby immediately?” one father asked (I later learned that he and his wife are waiting to adopt their second child). Everyone could hear the exasperation in his voice and as he spoke other parents nodded their heads in agreement.

I could not remain silent. As an adoptee, I felt a responsibility to speak for the orphaned, unwanted and abandoned babies. After obtaining permission from the group co-ordinator I stood up after the final presentation and faced the group. I knew that all they wanted to do was give a loving home to an orphaned, unwanted or abandoned child, but complex legal procedures made it so difficult for them to do so.

“After listening to everything that has been said today I cannot help but feel thankful that I was adopted under the old Children’s Act, which enabled me to be placed in my mother’s arms when I was a few days old and stay with them while the adoption process was finalised,” I began.

“That said, part of me also wishes I had been adopted under the new Act, because then my birth mother would have been legally required to name my birth father on my original birth certificate and that piece of my life puzzle would not still be missing to today.

“What this has made me realise is that sadly, even though it is intended to protect children from being exploited, the Children’s Act will never be perfect. It is formulated by imperfect humans who will never be able to devise a law that will satisfy the needs of all the parties involved.

“My parents also went through a difficult screening process and had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to adopt me. But they did it. They never gave up and today I am so thankful, because were it not for their perseverance I wouldn’t be standing here today pleading with you not to give up hope.

“The adoption procedure may lengthy, complex and frustrating, but stick with it. Orphans all over the world need you and God will bless you richly for your selfless act of love.”

 

Telling your child they are adopted – when and how

Guest Post
By Michelle Aspeling
Coordinator: Pretoria Adoption Support Group, South Africa

Families are formed in many ways and adoption is a beautiful way to make a family.  From the moment I received the referral of my son to the moment I laid eyes on him and looked into those little brown eyes, I knew he was my son.

After all the excitement and the joy that came with this blessed moment in my life, I had a great fear of how do I tell him I did not give birth to him?  Although for everyone else it might be obvious, as I am vanilla and he is chocolate, my biggest fear was, how would he respond and would he still love me as mommy?

During our home study preparation we were informed and educated on all aspects that lay ahead of us, so I knew from the beginning that he had the right to know that although he did not come from my body, this was just a technicality, as he was my choice and my gift from God.

There is often hesitancy on the part of adoptive parents, especially in cases of same-race adoptions for a variety of reasons, not to tell their children they are adopted.  During our home study preparation we were told that a child should never remember the moment they found out they were adopted; they should simply grow up knowing it.  I thought this made a lot of sense, and wanted to share some of the choices we made about telling our son that he is adopted.

Tell your child at an early age
It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, as it is often best to introduce the idea slowly and over time.  This can avoid the risk of the child finding out by accident from a family member or friend.  Some parents choose to wait until the child is in their teens before telling them child they are adopted, but adolescence is in itself a difficult time, so this may not be the best time.

In some ways, this can make the question of how to go about telling your child they are adopted somewhat easier, as small children tend to ask simpler questions than older children.  My son was four when he came home from nursery school and proudly told me: “I came from your tummy!” and pointed to my tummy.  (The teacher had explained to all the kids in the class where they came from and that they were born from their mommy’s tummies.)  At that moment, my heart skipped a beat and I said, “Skattebol, families are made in all kinds of ways, and sometimes children don’t come from their mommy’s tummy, but I’m still your mommy.”

This satisfied him for the moment. I did not deceive my child, nor did I make a big deal about it either, as telling them they are adopted is an ongoing process.  As your child is able to better understand things as they get older, you can explain more and more.  Obviously, a one or two-year-old is not going to comprehend the complicated facts of adoption, but they can start becoming partially aware of their special identity.

Be patient
It is important to explain a little at a time.  Only answer the questions asked.  This will allow your child to comprehend what you are telling them.  Answer each question as they come up, so that they are not overwhelmed and confused.  Children may only understand a small fraction of what has been explained, but, as they get older and are able to understand more detail, you will be able to build on an existing foundation.

Never place birth parents in a negative light
I used the following explanation: “You didn’t grow in mommy’s tummy.  You have a birth mother (or tummy mummy) and you grew inside her.  She loved you very much.  She couldn’t take care of you.  Now, you are my child and I am so lucky to be your mommy.”

It makes the child feel less rejected to know that they were loved deeply, but the biological parents just weren’t able to give them the kind of home they wanted the child to have.  You just have to find that middle ground between “over glamorising” birth parents and talking negatively about them.

Be honest
Adoption is not a shameful thing, it is simply the child’s “truth”.  We decided to be open about adoption, to talk about it freely, but not obsessively, and have our son always know how he came into our family.

Tell their story
We do this by telling our son bedtime stories of how we prayed for him, how we travelled to pick him up from the orphanage, how he came to live with us, and the joy, anticipation and love we felt. As he gets older, we adapt the story according to his level of understanding.  He is now starting to add his own bits and sometimes it is just wonderful how he is able to comprehend certain facts and explain to me what he understands.

Recently, he said: “I sat on the chair at the orphanage and was waiting for Mommy and Daddy to come and get me!” He asks questions which create a great dialogue between us. Other methods, such as reading a book about adoption, scrap booking and pictures, are ways parents can use to tell their children their story. Always stay positive!

Celebrate your differences
Our family is not defined by who received whose DNA, we are defined by relationship, as not one of us in our family shares the same genetics.  It doesn’t matter how you are formed; what matters is the love you share and the memories you create.  We celebrate his culture, heritage, food, art, and more.  Our son is from Cambodia, so it is not always easy living in South Africa to participate in the various festivities, but we take him to the temple, cook Cambodian cuisine and try to incorporate Cambodian traditions in our home.

Adoptive parents should not fear saying the “wrong thing”; there is no correct language or method to use when telling a child they are adopted.  You know your child best, so approach the discussion in the way you feel is most appropriate.

Visit the Pretoria Adoption Support Group on Facebook

email: pretoriaasg@yahoo.com

Interview on Adoption Journey Into Motherhood

Mary Beth Wells chats to Aurette about her discovery as an adult of her closed adoption, and her journey of healing.

Transracial adoption: Thoughts of a South African Adoptive Mom

Laura, a white South African, is the mother of two boys (her biological sons) and Megan, her black adopted daughter. I asked her about the challenges of raising a black child in a white family. Her response was so moving I had to share her words…

A few times I have had people ask me whose daughter my two-year-old Megan (name changed) is. When I respond that she is mine, and explain that she is adopted (as they look at me strangely), a few tell me very firmly, (sometimes aggressively) that there is no way that she could possibly be mine. Although this kind of ignorance is hurtful, I can handle it for myself, but my heart aches for Megan when she is old enough to hear and understand them. I think the deepest issue for me has been simply the aching that every mother has in her heart when her child is wounded and she cannot mend the wound herself.

I see this pre-language stage of Megan as our honeymoon time during which she will not be aware of the comments of others or their uninhibited staring. I truly believe that she is, and will be a happy and well-adjusted person, and I don’t in any way see adoption as a negative word or concept, but I do know that she will have to face the reality of it and the rejection of it when she is ready.

My prayer is that God will enable her to have a strong sense of who she is, as well as where she originally came from, even though it may always hurt her. I believe that she will become a child, and eventually a woman who is not afraid to stand up and be different when it is the right thing to do, or the loving thing to do. I trust that the challenges and issues will shape and strengthen her as they already are doing in our other two children and our marriage and our extended family. We pray that although adoption may be ‘a narrow path that few will take’, it will have a ripple effect on those who are touched by it, challenging stereotypes, prejudices and racism, and calling individuals and families to positive action in whatever area is right for them.

Once in particular I experienced quite overt racism towards Megan through a derogative comment that a man made about her in my presence (she was less than a year old – can you believe it!). My initial response was to immediately withdraw from the group I was standing in (they all heard the comment), and walk away before anything else could be said.

Usually, I can be quite verbal in these kinds of situations and would have given him a mouthful, but somehow when it is your own child they are talking about it is like being punched in the stomach and knocked down. It winds you mentally and emotionally, and the response in a mother to fight for your child is, I think,one of the strongest emotions there is.

I had some time to mull over this during the church meeting we had all just gone into. (church meeting, can this happen in church?) I was so angry on Megan’s behalf I could hardly breathe. How could anyone say something so rude as a joke, and to what purpose? I realised that this was probably a common way of speaking in his circles, and that those usually in his company either agreed with him and laughed, didn’t really notice what he had said, or quietly ignored his word. I also realised that he had probably hardly ever had someone of another colour skin in his social company, and therefore didn’t actually consider what he had said as offensive, until he saw me withdraw from the group.

I thought of all the things I could say to him after the meeting, but it all melted into nothing. I realised that nothing I would say to him would change him, and I surrendered my rage, asking God to deal with him and convict him in a way that only God can do. I realised that my anger would only elicit more hurt and resentment, possibly hatred in me, and I felt that my immediate withdrawal from the group as he spoke was perhaps statement enough of my feelings.

I began to feel pity instead of hate. After the meeting he came straight up to me, and although he did not apologise, his whole demeanor had changed, and he began asking me about Megan and the adoption process, saying how wonderful it is that we have adopted her and that she is a beautiful baby. I was speechless, and decided to try to extend grace to him. I hope that the experience challenged him, and continues to challenge and change him for the positive.

So I guess there are many issues that arise out of stories such as these. Firstly, the pain and sense of helplessness tied up in the awareness of my child’s future hurt, and secondly, the daily choices to either bow to the hurt, resentment and hatred  of others who are ignorant, nosy, or simply nasty, or to surrender to grace and be set free to love again. I think I’ve learnt that when you love truly deeply, there is ironically a wide open gap for hate to creep in – when those you love are attacked in whatever way. Pity is also a great replacement for anger, because you can begin to love someone if you pity them, but not if you remain angry with them.

On a lighter note (and there are infinitely more wonderful moments than these few dark ones that unfortunately stick in the memory), I will mention some of my thoughts and our experiences as a family.

Because we have chosen to adopt transracially, our adoption is ‘public’. Strangers cannot help but notice, and often stare or, better than staring, ask questions. Although I appreciate peoples’ honesty and would prefer questions to whispering behind our backs and possibly coming to incorrect assumptions about us and adoption, sometimes it can be tiring and draining to feel ‘watched’.

For example, when my daughter is misbehaving in public, throwing a tantrum, or crying, I feel that I am being watched and ‘assessed’ much more than with my two biological children. I feel (and this is just my perception), that if I am having to tell her off or she looks unhappy, people make the assumption that she is not happy, or that she is a difficult child or that I am not as good a mother as I would be if we were from the same people group. Perhaps that I am not really able to care for her needs well enough, or bond with her sufficiently. I feel that whatever some people observe in that small time frame will be used to judge the overall success of adoption, and although I acknowledge this as only my perception, I do feel it as quite a pressure some days.

I could not be more pro- adoption than I am. This is something I can give my life to, especially being an African (I am South African), with all the need for parents and homes here. My heart aches for our South African past and I grieve for all the injustices and cruelties. It’s difficult to ignore the aftermath of all of this, which still remains extremely visible here, especially in the recurring poverty cycles around us.

Partly my heart for adoption comes out of this sense of trying to make a difference and to right wrongs. It’s overwhelming to think of how massive the task is of changing a nation, but more manageable sometimes to think of making a huge difference to one life instead of a small difference to many lives.

And this is the path that we have been led into and chosen. When we attended the preparation course prior to our adoption of Megan, one of the things that really struck me was someone’s comments about ‘being a hero’. The social worker stressed that we cannot adopt only to ‘do something good’ or to be a ‘hero’. Although this seems very simplistic, I have grown to see it as extremely key in all adoptions, but especially transcultural adoptions. If I, even on a sub-conscious level, see myself as some kind of ‘rescuer’ of my child, I have to be very careful not to cross the very fine line of self-importance and white supremacy. Also, my child should never feel that she owes me anything for what I have done. I must operate out of love, which seeks no reward or congratulations.

This I have found to be difficult because often people’s first response when asking about the adoption is: ‘You are such wonderful people to have done this selfless thing’. But how does this portray my daughter? That she is lucky to have received our charity? No! I always try, no matter how short the interaction is, to put across the blessing that we have received through Megan, and that adoption perhaps begins as a selfless idea, but plays out as mutual love and blessing upon blessing within a family that just looks a little different.

Many people I have spoken to perceive that many adoptive parents have concerns that their child will one day leave them and go to live with their biological family when they find them. This has not at all been a concern for me. Megan is an integral part of our family and takes on the culture of our family as she grows and learns, just like the boys have. We met her birth mother on the day she was given to us, and that was truly an emotional and amazingly intimate time. We felt that we were really able to connect with her and we hope that when Megan is old enough (legally from the age of 18), she will seek her birth mother out.

I believe this will be part of her healing, although I know it will bring pain as well. I don’t feel threatened by my daughter’s birth mother because I know that in every way I am her real mother and I will always be that to her, even if her birthmother becomes part of her life one day. We portray Megan’s birth mother as a brave, very young girl who chose to release Megan as the most loving and selfless act of her life, because this is what we believe to be true.

One of my close friends was passionate about adoption, but had some concerns prior to our adoption. She asked me: “How do you know that you won’t favour your biological children over you adopted child?” My response surprised but moved her deeply. I explained that I was, on the contrary, concerned that I would favour my adopted child over the others because she has already been wounded by life.

We have been amazed to see our boys interact with Megan from day one in their absolute protective adoration for her. I was initially worried last year when my son, aged six, made a comment out of the blue about Megan being ‘more special’. Obviously, babies by nature are more demanding than slightly older children. I thought that he was perhaps feeling left out or jealous, yet we hadn’t observed any jealousy at all from either of the boys.

As I began to discuss this with him, he stopped me short. ‘It’s totally fine, Mom. Megan is more special because she is adopted.” This was clearly not said in a negative way, but he was expressing that he sees that Megan was chosen to be part of our family when she wasn’t before. I was so proud of him that he had grasped not only that she was more needy because she was a baby, but beyond that, we have to take special care with her because of her adoption. That’s not to say we treat her differently to the other children, but her beautiful rich skin is a constant reminder of the gift that has been entrusted to us, the gift of our little Megan.

Some of the really stupid questions people have asked me about Megan are: what does she eat? She must eat different food because she has dark skin.

Is she clever? Implying that she may not be – this is their concern about adoption. It makes my blood boil!
Does she speak English? We brought her home at when she was two months old!
Will we raise her in English? We don’t yet know an African language, although we will probably embark on learning one as a family in the future.

Although I call these ‘stupid questions’, as I said before I would in some ways far rather people come out with their questions to my face than come to their own conclusions behind my back. However, the difficulty comes in when these conversations happen in front of the children and can be extremely hurtful. I have sometimes, in severe cases, felt I am justified in going into attack mode verbally on behalf of my child. She must always know that I will be willing to stand against anyone or anything to defend her. Yet there is a fine line between righteous anger and going overboard emotionally in a way that is destructive, so I am constantly seeking wisdom for each particular situation.

The secret’s out, but the silence continues

When I first learned of my adoption around nine years ago I thought, great, now that the secret’s out my parents will no longer have to worry about someone blurting out the information to me and we will be able to talk about it openly. Sadly, that was not to be.

My parents were not only reluctant to discuss my adoption, indeed, they indicated strongly that I should “forget about it and get on with my life”. Of course, I couldn’t do this.

It took numerous weeks of counselling and many prayers for me to realise that my parents’, and especially my mother’s, unwillingness to talk about the subject was motivated not by spite or malice but fear and insecurity. But, through her faith in God and motivated by of her love for me, my mother was eventually able to overcome her fear and open her heart to understanding my need to search for my biological heritage. Not only did she give me her blessing, she even initiated the search for me. (I relate this story in more detail in my book. It’s one of my favourite memories of my journey because it affirms the scripture in 1 John 4:8:  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”.)

Months later, after I had found and been reunited with my birth mother, I was eager to tell my mother all about her. But the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is limited by our faith. My mother had gone as far as she was willing to. 

To this day she remains silent about my adoption.  She has not read my book, indeed, has not even acknowledged it. Naturally, I was hurt and disappointed at first, and turned to the Lord for guidance. How perfect are His ways. I love how He helps us overcome hurts by allowing us to relate to the experiences of others. Recently I visited with a friend of mine who had just adopted a baby girl and was eager to tell me all about it.

I was astounded at how different this child’s open adoption was to my closed process, and how far the adoption process has come in the 45 years since I was adopted. Then it was all done under cover of secrecy, “to protect the interests of the child” whose illegitimacy was considered a social scandal. For married couples eager to have a child but unable to because of infertility, adoption was considered the ideal “quick fix”. There was no counselling for the barrage of emotional issues adoptive parents could expect to encounter over their child’s lifetime.

Neither did my birth mother receive any counselling after relinquishing her baby. Once both parties had signed the relevant documentation, they were left to “live happily ever after”.

Where could my parents go with wounds that received no help to heal? My mother did what most members of her Silent Generation ddid with emotional hurts – she buried. She surrounded her heart with walls that became thicker and higher as time passed until eventually they were impenetrable. To talk openly about anything related to my adoption was to scratch open a fragile scar that had taken decades to form.

My parents and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to dealing with emotional pain, but I have come to understand their need for silence. I may not agree with it, and I wish with all my heart that I could change it, but I accept that this is not to be. That they respect my need to talk about my adoption in order to heal is enough for me.

My parents are in their seventies. I don’t know how much time we have left together, but I would rather spend it creating happy memories than trying to change things that, in their interests, are best left alone. As I do with all of my unresolved adoption issues, I have placed this one in God’s hands. There’s no safer place to leave it.

A powerful purpose

I stumbled across this image on the Internet recently and immediately associated it with my adoption.

“You were an answer to prayer,” my mother said to me when we discussed how their adoption of me came about.

Her statement caused me to catch my breath as I felt my heart skip a beat.

I was an answer to prayer.

Imagine two people praying to the Almighty God – the Creator who spoke the world into existence – for a baby and they receive you. Wow. God choosing me as a gift for someone – that in itself is a gift – to me.

Truly, God meant it when He said:  “Can a mother forget her baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isa 49:15).

And He didn’t. When my birth mother decided she couldn’t keep me and wanted to ensure that her baby girl was given to a happy, Christian home, God looked down from Heaven, saw my mother and father and said: “This baby for that couple.”

The fact that my father had always wanted a little girl with brown eyes and blonde hair had everything to do with it.

Adoptees are a gift from God to their adoptive parents. That you were given to them specifically is no accident. God had a definite purpose in mind when He caused you to come into each others’ lives. Even if your adoptive situation was not a happy one, it’s important to know that God can turn any evil into good to suit His divine purpose – if you allow Him to by submitting to His will.

It’s Powerful stuff. And it’s ours for the taking.

Go on, take it.

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