Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

Parenthood: The Ultimate Natural High?

So my bizarre claim to fame (if it can be called that) is that apparently James Van Der Beek and I used to toddle around in our diapers together in a plastic wading pool in our mutual hometown of Cheshire, Connecticut. I have no recollection of this, but I’m sure Dawson often looks poignantly into the distance and wonders what became of little Lizzy.

Or maybe not. He’s a little busy these days with the stork recently dropping off his second kid. His tweet on the day his son arrived somehow managed to avoid the standard “mom and baby are doing fine” or “we are so blessed!” (c’mon people, I know things are a little nuts in the delivery room, but can’t we come up with something more creative?) James did – this is what he had to say instead:

 

 

Whoa. No more war? That’s a pretty hardcore statement, Mox.

I must admit – I’m not sure I’ve ever felt something quite on that level. I mean, the moment I adopted my cats was nice, but Jacques was a bit of a pain in the ass, chewing on my pen while I signed the papers. Getting married was pretty awesome too, but I was heartily distracted by the fact that my caterers didn’t offer Labatt’s as one of our beer choices. Perhaps the closest I’ve come to this overwhelming emotion was my kickball team winning the 2006 Dogtown Division championship and celebrating in a shower of Andre champagne (nothing but the best for us).

But even THIS I wouldn’t describe as having the power to end all war. And with a statement like that, I guess I’m intrigued.

So What IS This Feeling?

Most new parents, when trying to capture this emotion, spout off some variation of It’s the most indescribable feeling…which is somewhat problematic for me in that they can’t seem to describe it. It evidently just has to be experienced. Or they say something like, Man, when they put that baby in your arms… and then they just shake their heads. Also not tremendously helpful.

I hate the idea that there’s this wildly powerful emotion running around out there in the world that I might never catch. But is the curiosity over this feeling enough to justify the lifelong commitment, expense, blah, blah, blah, of a child? Seems like a tough bargain.

The Other Un-Feelables

Maybe it’s okay that I won’t get to experience this feeling. There are countless other mind-blowing adrenaline rushes I’m going to miss out on as well – diving off a bridge with a flimsy bungee rope around my ankle and dashing over hot coals are not high on my To-Do List. We’ve all met those passionate skydivers (You gotta do it – biggest rush you’ll ever get!) and we just sort of laugh them off. Why risk your life for one wild thrill? Now I know having kids isn’t risking your life (except for the 529,000 women who die each year from childbirth complications). But in a way, children are the death of your private life – or at least your social life as you know it. So why is this surge of parental love – those few shining moments in a sea of temper tantrums – the one intense emotion that one that everyone says you can’t afford to miss?

Am I Even Capable of This Feeling?

I don’t cry easily. I don’t cry ever, really, unless Victor Newman has once again smashed someone’s heart on The Young & The Restless. Drew and I have been together for six years and I’m not sure he’s ever witnessed a Liz tear. But the day my friend Emily had her first baby and her mom ushered us into the hospital room an hour later, I got a little misty. Was it from seeing baby Liam? Seeing Nick holding him for the first time – some contact parental high? Or was it seeing my friend Emily in a hospital bed, looking doped out of her mind and paler than a Downton Abbey servant in winter? Because I had a similar reaction when we visited her in that same hospital six months later after an emergency appendix removal. Maybe I was overcome with fear instead of joy.

Perhaps I’m made of stone. Or it’s my German ancestry (we are a harsh people). But all this overwhelming emotion stuff? I’m just not sure that would even happen for me. Or maybe everyone’s just done a crappy job of explaining it.

Parents who are reading – can any of you do a better job of articulating this?

PS, The photo at the top is of me and my little bro in Cheshire – or maybe it’s James? Who can tell, my mother was too busy chasing three kids around to label photos.

PPS, Just in case my enthusiasm for winning our kickball tournament was ever in doubt, please see the photo below. And please note the upside-down plaque. This is what happens after an Andre shower.

46 Responses to Parenthood: The Ultimate Natural High?

  • Rachel says:

    Unfortunately, you will never really understand until you feel it. And you will never know if you are capable of feeling it until you do. Haha…I’m sure that helps! But again, consider all the other feelings that you will never have (skydiving example) and how easily you are willing to give up never having those emotions. There are lots of emotions you will never have and never understand. I will guarantee (even though I haven’t experienced it first hand), that having a baby is unlike anything else in life. But then again, so are most other things, as no 2 things are exactly alike. I could tell you how excited I was to get a dog and how much I love her and it is unlike anything else. But that still wouldn’t make you understand exactly how I’m feeling.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Agreed! I couldn’t really do it justice if I tried to explain to a non-pet owner how rewarding it can be to have pets, so I suppose there’s no reason to think parents would be any more successful at voicing this feeling with regards to kids. It shall remain a mystery!

      • Rachel says:

        I have tried to tell non-pet people about how fantastic it is to have a pet, but they don’t get it and won’t until they have one. I’m okay with having the feeling of having a baby be a mystery! LOL

  • Tina V. says:

    I LOVE reading your blog Liz!! As a mother of 3 boys I think that maybe the emotion comes from the father more than the mother?? For me I was all “Thank God that parasitic thing is finally out of my stomach, I can walk without feeling the need to pee every 10 steps, I can rest without having being kicked in the lungs, bladder, colon, and I can sleep without feeling like I’m going to squish it”, but now being a grandparent. The feeling arrived when our first grandson arrived. Maybe it was because I didn’t have to endure the nine months of pregnancy, all the uncomfortable times of being pregnant, or because I knew that when it came down to it I can pass him back to Mom and Dad and go home, to a “semi” quiet home. I say semi quiet home because I still have boy #2 and 3 there and they fight like one is a Taliban and the other is an American. But I think that the feelings of having a child are unique to the individual and the situation. My cousin and his wife have chosen not to have children, they enjoy each other too much and the life they have, traveling when the feel like it, skiing all the time (they live in Oregon on the mountain), river rafting in the summer. My aunt is of course devistated that she will never be a Grandmother but still respects their decision.
    I had my children early on in life, most if not all of our friends are now having children where hubby and I are done and enjoying grandchildren. Our youngest is 10 and we are chomping at the bit for #2 to spread his wings and move out, he’s 20 and think it’s time for him to go… I can only dream of this day to come!! I love my boys but as I get older my discipline styles start to lax, I’m tired of being a parent now and ready to have a quiet house. Keep blogging, I really do love reading and can actually hear your voice in my head as I read.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Tina! Yes, being a grandparent does sound infinitely more lovely than being a parent. Drew and I often wonder if we can adopt an adult child when we’re in our fifties and just start at the grandparenting stage. Maybe you’d be willing to give us Child #2? :)

      • Kelly in Portland says:

        Hahaha! My hubby & I have been saying that for years… “Can we adopt a 20-something when we’re 50?” We don’t want kids but it sure would be nice to be grandparents someday.

        • Maybe Lady
          Maybe Lady says:

          There has GOT to be a market for this – matching up Childfree older couples with young adults whose parents have passed, or they had irreconcilable differences with? I should work on setting up an agency.

          • Nancy says:

            FANTASTIC! If this service existed a decade ago when I was out of college and struggling to get stable, it could have saved me so many mistakes! Do it!

  • Tory says:

    There is some research floating around out there… maybe Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, I forget… that talks about how parenthood does give you huge highs in emotions. However, in the interest of taking the bitter with the sweet, it also doses out some of the lowest lows. The research basically shows that there are wild fluctuations between these highs and lows in parenthood, while in non-parents there is somewhat less of this. I might miss out on the highest highs, but will also be spared some of the lower lows. As someone who has had plenty of “wild fluctuations” in my head in the past, I am seeking a life that will keep me on a more even keel, something I have more control over. I guess it’s all about knowing what you want out of life, and what your mind and body need!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      That’s a great way of putting it. I think there are some people who seek those extremes of emotions – like people who enjoy being in feisty relationships where they may fight more, but they’re also way more passionate. And there are other people who would rather not be on that constantly swinging pendulum. I guess I’ll have to figure out which one of those I am!

    • Nancy says:

      I met a fantastic woman in her 60′s a few years ago (the kind I want to be when I grow up) who’s never had children and is a practicing Buddhist. She told me that when you choose not to have children, the whole world can be your family; you can skip all the feuding that can come from the instinctual nesting, protecting urges. I LOVED that idea, and now the peacefulness she embodies makes more sense in the context of this discussion on the highs and lows you avoid by not having kids. Was she so zen because she was Buddhist or because she was child free?

      • Maybe Lady
        Maybe Lady says:

        Wow, I’m not sure. But I think just to be safe, I’m going to start looking into the whole Buddhist thing. Thanks for sharing, Nancy!

  • Cubebert says:

    I agree with Dawson and admittedly, have described it as “not describable”. With time and energy devoted to reflecting on this, I think it is such a rush because all of a sudden, you are no longer the most importnat entity in your own life. It goes from all about you, to all about someone else in an instant. And that is why it is such a rush and a high, and such a foreign feeling. The cool thing is, the feeling never goes away completely. At least it hasn’t for me yet!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Well, it’s good to know it’s not just a flash in the pan and you’re still riding the high. Thanks for at least attempting to clarify this indescribable feeling!

    • Laura says:

      But, but, but… that’s the way I feel about my partner! It’s not all about me anymore, it’s about us now. And it’s wonderful!
      I -in no way- want to diminish the importance or reality of your love for your child/ren, but you’ve got to admit that it’s got to be a hormonal thing. Otherwise, how can you love, with every fiber of your being, someone you don’t know and hasn’t even developed a personality yet. It’s all you projecting on them.

      • Maybe Lady
        Maybe Lady says:

        Ah, the hormones! An excellent point. I’ve definitely discounted their importance in all of this. It is an interesting notion that someone can love so fiercely a person they’ve just laid eyes on, who’s done nothing more than simply be born at this point. It really must be a projection of all that they’ll be doing in the future. Interesting…

  • Kate says:

    It is a pure, primal instinct. So I doubt it is possible to sum out without experiencing it. I am sure all mothers feel it, no matter what the species. We just have vocabulary and have labels for “emotions”.

    I am sure in a near death experiences survival kicks in and pumps unexplainable instinct resembling strong emotions through people as well, and I bet that is impossible to explain too.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Good point, I bet they’re pretty similar in terms of getting your blood pumping. It’s amazing sometimes how our bodies take over in these situations!

      • Kate says:

        FYI – I have no kids, and don’t plan to have any. So that is just my assumption. But it makes sense that instinct would kick in, in an intense, emotional, eruption. In order for humans to continue we must have that intense instinct to protect our babies, and humans protect things they love and adore. So perhaps that is why when people first meet their baby they have that feeling of love like no other.

        I figure if I never do it, I won’t know what I am missing, so am not too worried :)

        • Maybe Lady
          Maybe Lady says:

          Yes – there’s definitely something to be said for not knowing what you’re missing. It’s hard to really be upset about missing out on something that you can’t truly comprehend.

          • Scott says:

            By the same token, if you’re 35 and have a kid, you will never understand the wonderful experience of being 35 without a kid. I wish I could it explain it to people, but you just have to experience it for yourself….

          • Maybe Lady
            Maybe Lady says:

            Touché, touché.

  • Scott says:

    Is it just me, or is it weird that Van Der Beek refers to the baby as “his first son”? I assume he means he’s never had a son before so this is all new to him, and not that he’s already decided he’s going to have more than one son.

    As for stopping war: I’ll wager most wars have been started by men who are fathers.

    As for bottling the feeling: you can probably get a prescription for oxytocin or any number of similar drugs. He’s in Hollywood — he must know a dealer….

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      That WAS strange that he added “first” – maybe the experience of having a son is way different than that of having a daughter (which he already has)? Or maybe Mox just took too many lumps on the head in Varsity Blues.

  • InTheNotCategory says:

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read your blog- CF can be quiet place to be in Big Ten country:) Great to hear from like-minded individuals, even if you’re Californians now! I wished this was an easier question to answer, but the gravity of the consequences kinda prevents that. I am definitely looking forward to more of your posts!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Aww, thank you! Boy, I know – I complain that I’ve got it tough out here with the prospect of no Childfree friends in the future – but I can’t even imagine trying to do it if I’d stayed in Indiana. At least Childfree social resources are becoming more prevalent now!

  • mary says:

    You have put into words almost exactly the nagging feeling that still lingers with me. Even though I’m more in the “probably not gonna happen” camp, it’s that elusive, mysterious feeling that parents try to describe that has been hard to accept I may never understand. I have and appreciate all kinds of love in my life, human and animal. I want that to be enough. And it is. But when I hear that familiar “It’s unlike any other kind of love…” it feels like a big ol thing I’m missing out on. Thanks for your blog–I love it!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      So true. But I guess “it’s unlike any other kind of love” could apply to all relationships. My love for my husband is unlike the love I have for anyone else. And the same can be said for my cats, etc. I guess it’s just a “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” sort of thing – if we know we don’t really want a baby, then we just have to accept that we’ll never feel this. That’s life! Thanks for your kind words on the blog, I’m glad you’re liking it!

  • olivia says:

    I think about this issue too because if there’s one thing I hate missing out on, it’s major life experiences. But for me, the things I’ve been able to experience as a non-mother are often intangibly awesome as well, so I still feel it’s the right lifestyle for me.

  • Basketcase says:

    BUT BUT BUT!
    Not everyone gets that emotion!
    You know, the one for Mums where you are meant to be totally in love with this perfect being from the moment they put it in your arms? Yeah, a good friend didn’t get that. And the only reason it didn’t spiral her in to a Post-Natal Depression was because she had read an article where Angelina Jolie admitted she hadn’t felt it at the start and instead it had grown on her over about six months or so.
    But AJ had been blasted by all the mombie-types out there for being unfeeling at the time, which is unfair I think. Not everyone has the same experience.

    My wonderful husband has a very limited range of emotions – happy, horny and hungry is our joking way of putting it. He nearly cried when I walked down the aisle, and one of the reasons I have in the “yes to kids” list is to see him *actually* cry when he holds his first child. I want to see if its possible, does he really have tear ducts… Personally? I’m not expecting that moment for me if we get there. I’d rather not expect it and be pleasantly surprised than expect it and be disappointed.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Yes, it seems ridiculous to blame someone for a lack of emotion. I mean, how is one supposed to control that? It’s either there or it’s not. Well, I’m glad AJ had the guts to admit it to the world, she’s helping end the myth that motherhood is the same heavenly experience for everyone, right from the beginning. As for crying at weddings…we love making fun of my husband because he cried (and wiped his eyes on the vows he’d written on a napkin) at ours, and I didn’t. To be fair, if I hadn’t been busy laughing at him crying, I probably would have cried too.

  • Kurt says:

    I get the comment quite a bit that I won’t know what love is until I hold my own kid. Maybe that first few seconds is pretty good…but I’m pretty sure it’s downhill from there. And I’m pretty sure that I’m capable of loving lots of things. Had to link to a great blog post about a simlar topic at babyoffboard.com

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Thanks for the link, Kurt! I actually hadn’t yet stumbled upon Baby Off Board, what a great site!

  • HillGal says:

    I have 5 kids, the youngest is almost 11, the oldest is about to graduate from college. I gave birth to two of these kids and inherited three of them. I love them all and am proud of them all. We have been through hard times and we have been through good times. I think I have been a very good mother to them all, not a “perfect” mother, but certainly a good mother.

    Neither I nor my husband ever felt that exhilarating “high” of becoming parents that you so often hear described in popular media. My pregnancies were easy; my deliveries and recoveries were hard (though not as hard as some); and to be honest, outside of the occasional child-free vacation, I have been tired 100% of the time since I gave birth almost 15 years ago. I spend an “indescribable” amount of time driving children to and from activities, preparing meals for children, cleaning up after children, and spend pretty much all my money on food, clothing, shelter, education, activities and childcare for my children. (And yes, I have a regular job too). My choices in life have been severely limited by my children. Sometimes I resent it, sometimes I’m grateful for it.

    Some of my children I have a strong connection with (like you do with your friends, you’re just a match) and some of my children my relationship is much more difficult with, almost as if we never just “clicked.”

    I love being a parent and there’s no point wondering what if my life had been different… But I think pat statements like James Vanderbeek’s and others really oversimplify the whole idea of parenting and the mythical joy of parenting. It is really a huge mistake for anyone to feel pressured to have kids or like they are missing out on some big secret society or great high if they don’t have kids. Depending on how many kids you have, parenting is a 20-30 year marathon with lots of really tough times. Yes there are those highs you get from time to time (kind of like runners’ highs) that are the product of discipline and hard work. I would never recommend getting into parenting for the potential highs. Compared to the relentless hard work, the highs are few and far between.

    (And FWIW fatherhood for James Vanderbeek and other celebs and the super-wealthy probably is a lot easier than it is for fathers and mothers who don’t have the means to pay for a lot of extra help, no less healthcare and the basics that children require)

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Wow HillGal, thank you for your candid comment! No sugar-coating the whole parenting thing from you! :) It’s really great to hear things like this because it helps to balance out the dialogue since it sometimes seems we get a very one-dimensional view of parenthood (that it’s very hard, but the highs make up for it and it’s completely worth it). Thanks so much for your honest opinion!

  • Cristina says:

    I think your personality dictates how you feel about a baby. I personally can’t connect with another person without spending time with them, so I didn’t fall in love with my son until he was about 4 months old (he’s 13 months old now). Things changed when he started to actually interact with me (smiling, laughing, cooing, etc) and I got to know him as more than just this eating, sleeping, and pooping machine that made it impossible for me to sleep through the night.

    The way I feel for him now is like a combination of how I feel for my cats and my husband: I’m responsible for feeding and changing him, plus he is fun to play with (cats); and he drives me up the wall but I stick it out because I love him and chose to have him (husband).

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      That’s such an interesting point Cristina – you really don’t KNOW this baby when you give birth. And it makes perfect sense that it should take a while before you really connect. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ashley says:

    It is very hard to describe. The best way I can put it is imagine being in love for the first time. It’s like that times a million. You are instantly in love with this baby and there is nothing they could ever do to change that. Even though you just met them you would die for them willing without a second thought. I thought I didn’t want kids. I had no maternal instinct. Then we got a surprise. I actually wondered while being pregnant if I would even like my kid, since I wasn’t really a kid person. Well, the second she was born all of a sudden I was a mother and then I couldn’t even imagine not being a mother. A year later we got pregnant with our second. Being a mother is the hardest job I have ever had and I can’t travel, go out shopping alone, have nice furniture,…etc. But I would never trade it for my old childless life. There is a joy that comes with raising children and that isn’t the same as happiness. In the most stressful, worst moments I still feel an overwhelming joy that I am lucky enough to be in that moment with my babies.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      It’s so interesting to me how this is so different for everyone. For you, it was instantaneous, and for Cristina, it took months to feel that deep level of attachment. I guess it just goes to show that there are no definitive answers in this. But thanks for sharing how you felt about the experience!

  • Michelle says:

    First of all – love your blog and thank you for discussing this issue tactfully.

    My friend was finally talked into having a baby by his wife with NPD (that\’s another story – people who use babies as status symbols!). Anyhow, now he spends most of his time trying to explain it to my partner and I (still trying to justify his past self or convince himself – I\’m not sure). Anyhow, it comes off in a very condescending way…. \”someday you\’ll understand, etc…\” He knows I have had a near death experience (almost died of anorexia 3 times as a teenager). Now I\’m healthy but I realize how amazing it was to have my body in such an extreme state. It was an amazingly powerful spiritual feeling to me and hinted at other realms and possibilities beyond what we can see. I have never been able articulate it to anyone (especially the heart stopping part – although I\’ve tried through music). But I NEVER tell anyone that they have to go through it in order to understand. If an experience is truly powerful, I think it leads to an unspeakable understanding about life and treating others as equals (as in – you wouldn\’t look down on others for not doing it). I\’m actually afraid of having a baby because I think I\’ll be disappointed by it. I don\’t think it will compare to the universal and higher form of love that I felt that goes beyond the obligation of family and animal instinct. I liked the post about the Buddist woman in her 60\’s…. She is on to something.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Wow, that’s a natural high I wouldn’t have expected – so interesting! It really just speaks to how many different ways we can seek out that kind of extreme feeling in ways other than parenthood.

  • Michelle says:

    I just want to clarify that I’m not suggesting near death experiences or mental illness (meditation – maybe). I’m simply saying that some people use drugs or obsessive compulsive disorders to get a “high” or a sense of control. Parenting may be a more socially acceptable way of exerting the side of our mind that desires power, control, and extreme new experiences. First of all, I imagine it feels very powerful to create a human, let alone try to shape it into who you’d like it to be. It’s the closest thing we get to playing god. I’d be like, “Wow! I created a foot, a hand, a heart that beats, eyes that see this amazing planet, etc!” I still think this is a sign of being in love with life and accepting being in a body myself – not exactly a reason to create a person! On another note, I had this dream where I had a baby and I felt an INTENSE LOVE for it, but instead of thinking it would cause no more war, I thought, “This love is the reason people can work jobs that they hate, stay in marriages that are horrible, and give up on their own projects. This is the form of love that caused all the wars throughout history. Why? Because this is the reason people have so much to protect and defend.” Of course it was only a dream, but my logic still doesn’t argue with it.

    When I imagine a child at my side, the world becomes a much more threatening place to me than it is right now. I’m wondering if this happens to anyone else? For example, there are neighbors you look at differently because of the possibilities of child abuse (or simply what strange things they may say). Before they were just quirky neighbors. There is a walk in the park and then there is “Oh my! I’m walking in a park. There is a strange dog over there (do they get upset around kids?), a cliff over there (I know not to run towards it – my toddler doesn’t), a stranger who wants money over there (are they a bum, will they follow us)? Ahhhh!” It’s not just a walk in the park anymore. And someone innocent in need of help is not just someone in need of help when they knock on the door either. Threats exist where they didn’t before. I don’t want my brain to see the world that way. I worked really hard not to be paranoid and I don’t want to go back!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I completely agree that it becomes a more threatening place, because on a much smaller level, I feel that way with my cats now. When my husband and I discussed adopting a teenager (many years down the road!), my first thought was “What if we get someone who harms the cats?!” No thought whatsoever to my own safety (even though, sadly, sometimes foster/adopted kids threaten, hurt or kill their adoptive/foster parents…though so do biological children occasionally). It would probably lead me to adopt a girl or two girls instead of a boy (even though I’d maybe enjoy having a boy more, or one of each) because they’re less likely to harm animals. I’m sure this paranoia is times 1,000 though when you have a kid! Can’t even imagine it.

  • Carmen says:

    This is such a late comment… I just found your blog. I love it!!! Thank you so very much, I’ve been reading it every day and it has helped me tremendously with my struggles. I really think that I am there. The last thing for me to let go is the feeling that you are speaking of. That first moment of holding your own child. The raw emotion, that I will never feel. The fact is I have already felt it. Friend and family births, marathon episodes of birth shows, etc. I tear up almost every time, and I don’t think it’s because oh I wish I was experiencing this, but because the emotion was there for the situation, even though the child is not mine. I can tune in to one of those shows and feel that anytime I want to. I can read accounts of the birth process and have those feelings. Ask a friend to share the details of their birth story (they don’t mind reliving it with me) I think that I do feeling a lot of what they were feeling. At least it’s close enough. The fact is, I’ve just realized that if it were my own child, I’d have the exhilarating feeling, and then kind of feel let down, like, is this it? Now what? I know that I would be depressed. I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest reason that I wanted to have a child was to feel “that” – those seconds of bliss where my husband and I can feel this tremendous connection and unexplainable joy with this thing that you’ve been anticipating for so long. I do believe it would be fleeting. I’m OK with that.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      It sounds like you’re in a good place with it then, Carmen! I wish the rest of us were as self-aware! Welcome to the blog, glad you found me!

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