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Positive Adoption Language Primer

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Stork Central    1,050

If you have a family member entering the adoption process, one of the first things you can do to help support them is to learn to "talk the talk" as they walk the walk. How we talk about adoption and the words we use are very  important, because it helps shape how everybody--the child included--come to understand the process, the decision, and the future! For starters, the following "vocabulary lesson," describing how open adoption actually works:

* When applicants enter Abrazo's program to adopt a child, we refer to them as "parents-in-waiting" and we encourage them to see themselves as "expecting", because having a psychological pregnancy is an essential step towards getting ready for parenting.

* All adoptive applicants go through what's called a "homestudy", an important series of interviews, home inspections and background checks done by a licensed social worker, to certify that they are prepared to offer a suitable home for a child in need.

*Homestudied applicants then begin receiving arranged phone calls with prospective "birthparents", usually pregnant women (and/or their partners) between the ages of 18 and 40, who are expecting a child and considering placing their child for adoption. If the parties choose to match, then they voluntarily enter into an exclusive agreement to plan together for the placement of a specific child, and begin building a vital friendship, which is intended to last for a lifetime. Note, however, that this is only a potential "getting to know you" opportunity and not a promise or guarantee of placement, because under the law, no birthmother is legally committed to adoption until relinquishment (the legal release) is done and termination (court proceedings) has occurred, neither of which can happen until a baby is more than 48 hours old.   

*Babies and children being released by their birthmothers for adoption are temporarily entrusted to the prospective parents-in-waiting by the agency (Abrazo) on Placement Day. The agency then applies for government approval for the child to cross state lines in a process called Interstate Compact which necessarily delays the new family's travel for at least 7-10 days, if the adopting family is not from Texas.

*Then the new family gets to come home with the baby/child to meet you, the new grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. However, for the next 6-18 months, the adopting parents will be beholden to Abrazo, since the agency is still the child's legal guardian. This is is called post-placement supervision and entails a crucial process of quarterly social worker interviews, monthly progress reports, home visits and medical overview. Ongoing contact with the child's birthfamily is also very important, since it provides the child's loved ones with needed, lifelong assurance of his or her growth, happiness and wellbeing.

*Once supervision is completed, Abrazo audits the case and reviews each file, to ensure that the placement is a success, and upon confirming this, the agency legally releases the family to adopt the child. The adopting parents hire and attorney and appear in court (usually in TX) to finalize their adoption-- the official beginning of that family's permanent life together. And then, hopefully, they all live happily ever after!!

But what makes the words highlighted in red so essential, and what are other adoption vocabulary terms that relatives need to know? Let's turn this over to our Forum family and ask them for their valuable input!!

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Jenny N    0

This is a very good article, we also try very hard to get our friends amd family to use the words that we use/will use with our son. I also JUST (like seconds ago) got done emailing none other than Dr. Phil. There is a special on his show about a family in crisis and includes a pregnant teen deciding her babies future and its driving me NUTS that they keep saying, Dr. Phil included, "Put the baby up for adoption" "give the baby away" I emailed him that the baby will not be hanging anywhere so they won't be up! I said a better way to phrase that would be "place the child...." I explained that most birthmothers/families get the opportunity to select the families and "place the child" with them.  We are also struggling with how to explain our growing family. We have one adopted son, and a bio-child (son) on the way (and one day overdue now!!;) and I am not sick of the questions or congradulatory comments, but I hate lableing my sons, one is the "adopted" one and one is "bio" one. How can I explain the difference w/o lables? I know I shouldn't even have to explain, but when point blank asked? What should my response be? ???

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ElizabethAnn    687

You make such a good point, Jenny N! Someone (I forget who) launched a similar subject discussing the horribly ignorant things well-meaning strangers say about adopted siblings. Perhaps one of our more-talented Forum sleuths can recall where that is, as it may provide you with some ideas about dealing with the labelling issue?

For our Family Room newbies who may not have yet found their way around the Forum yet, here's a reprint of a link posted elsewhere, offering a list of "talking about adoption" do's and don'ts: Things NOT to say to Adoption Persons NOR Birthparents NOR Parents Who Adopt, from the Adoption Crossroads website by adoption expert Joe Soll.

Confused about some of the statements included on that list and why they're considered offensive?

Feel free to ask on this Forum by posting those questions here. (There's no such thing as "stupid questions," after all, and understanding why such sayings are hurtful may help you better understand the whole adoption concept... the first and most special gift you can give that new or coming grandchild, niece/nephew or cousin of yours!)

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marthaj    112

Bumping up this topic for MarkLaurie, for all those who are thinking about entering the adoption process, and for those of us who just need a "review." smile.gif

Edited by marthaj

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ElizabethAnn    687

This is a particularly brilliant post from elsewhere on the Forum, that just has to be reprinted here, because it sums up so beautifully why HOW we talk about adoption truly does matter:

Amanda, I can completely understand what you are saying about the use of "giving up and giving away." The more I hear it, the more it makes me sad. You typically do not hear these terms used with something so precious. I mean, you might "give up" eating sugar or fattening foods. You might "give up" golf or another pasttime. You might "give away" clothing when you clean out your closet. You might "give away" a piece of furniture you no longer need.

Using these terms to describe the loving, selfless act of an expectant parent to make an adoption plan for their child just completely minimizes what adoption is. This term is unfair to both the birthparents and the child. It makes it sound as if on a whim an expectant parent just decided to "give away" their child. As if it was easy. As if they just didn't need it. Last I checked, a child is much more precious than any piece of clothing. Certainly not something you could just "give up." I'm pretty sure most people haven't grieved over the last shirt they gave away when they cleaned out their closet. Please people, don't equate adoption with something so trivial.

Sorry for the ramble, but we all have our things that bug us and this is mine. I cringe whenever someone says, "I could never just give away my children." Well, birthparents do not just give away theirs either. It is just not that simple.

Hear, hear!!! Thanks to Matthew & Betsy, for saying it and for saying it so well!!

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hkingkong    10

I recently talked to a group of young woman about my adoption experience. One thing that I wanted to make sure that they understood is that birthmothers do not give up their children. They place them into loving homes and it is an agonizing decision. Birthmothers want what is best for their child and that is why they choose adoption. They are not throwing their children away. They love them desperately. Hopefully this will stick and change their perception forever.

One mind at a time. :)

Heather :)

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My parents cannot remember our birthmother's first names. We are not socialite people with a million friends.

This annoys me that they can not remember these important women in our lives and the lives of our children.

Laural

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ElizabethAnn    687

Laural, I "get" why that bugs you! Although it surely is not an intentional slight on their part, it would seem to send a message that those who are so special to you and your boys are not as significant to them and you understandably feel they should be as valued as any other extended family members!

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We haven't shared the names of our girls' moms with anyone. With C, I know she is so private and has kept the placement just between her and her son. Is it something that we should be sharing, or is that part of the girls' story that they can share if/when they are ready to? We talk about it between us (and tell the girls regularly that C and D love them, too!) but when I refer to those special ladies, I refer to them as their mom.

Have I been making a poor decision up to this point?

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HeidiK    94
We haven't shared the names of our girls' moms with anyone. With C, I know she is so private and has kept the placement just between her and her son. Is it something that we should be sharing, or is that part of the girls' story that they can share if/when they are ready to? We talk about it between us (and tell the girls regularly that C and D love them, too!) but when I refer to those special ladies, I refer to them as their mom.

Have I been making a poor decision up to this point?

Amanda - I don't see it as a poor decision at all. All of our situations are just different. Since Parker's birth family has attended camp,and we have visits with Gabe's birth family and I post picks and stories about everyone- I use their names. First names only - my parents have met Gabe's birth family too. I do alot to re-assure anyone I ma talking to about the boys birth families - that YES they did love thme - that's why they made an adoption choice. I think everyone should make choices about how and when sharing information is done based on each situatiuon. I KNOW you have C and D's along with girls best interests in your heart always!

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linlacor    23

Hi Amanda,

This is just my own personal preference but I prefer using the first names of both our childrens' birthmothers. Meg (Brennan's birthmother) is obviously very ok with this and I think would be offended if I didn't - we have an extremely open adoption and everyone under the sun knew she was pregnant and placing and I think there were about 10 people in the delivery room when Brennan was born (all family except for one very close friend). On the other hand, Kayleigh's birthmother (Rachel) isn't in contact with us and I know is extremely private about her placement (her parents/sisters knew only because they were actually there when Kayleigh was born). She's never told us not to use her name (she's never actually spoken to us) so I use her name - I use it very casually around Kayleigh - Rachel, Rachel, Rachel - and if I talk about Kayleigh's birthmother to our friends, I also say her name. I say her name on the forum but honestly, that's the only place I'm less comfortable using it "just in case" she ever logged on here and was offended that I used her name (i.e. if she interpreted it as a sign I wasn't repsecting her privacy). When I first wrote letters to her (which go to her file at Abrazo so she's never actually received them (yet)), I didn't use her first name because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to know it - it felt so strange for me to know it - like sneaky or something (I guess because of the closed nature/confidentiality of Kayleigh's adoption that they requested). I ended up asking Elizabeth if it was okay for me to address Rachel directly in my letters to her and she said yes, ok to do so...so from then on, I would write "Dear Rachel".

Now, I'm coming from a very different perspective so that may influence why I've made the decisions I have and had the feelings I've had about using their first names. I'm not sure what the adoption experts say but here's my thoughts on our own situation. I placed in a closed/confidential adoption (not my choice, just how it was done). I didn't know Joanna's name (my daughter I placed) until she was 19 years old. I hated not knowing her name...I wanted to know it sooo much! So, names in an adoption are just sort of a big deal to me - I understand that there is a need to respect privacy though. When we adopted Kayleigh - her birthfamily wanted a confidential adoption so here I was back to secrecy/privacy again and in a weird way, it felt comfortable to me but at the same time, I didn't like it. Once I began to accept that it was ok to say her birthmother's name, I just began using it very freely, regardless of who I was talkinng to. I guess I don't want to do anything to cause Kayleigh to feel as though she can't openly talk about her birthfamily and adoption and to me, it just feels like if I don't use her name in a consistent manner (i.e. only when we're together but not to friends/strangers), then it will be something she comes to believe is secretive (??? maybe not the best word??? or should be hidden/private) I may be doing things wrong but as Heidi said, it's a personal choice and one that everyone makes based on their own situations and comfort zones and relationships. If Kayleigh's birthmother specifically requested that I not use her name except when talking to Kayleigh, I'm not sure how I'd handle that or if I'd be able to honor that - it just still feels to me like I would be laying a foundation for Kayleigh that it's something to be private about and I just don't ever want her to feel like her birthfamily and adoption story is something she needs to hide or feel like it is or isn't okay to discuss - and I think however I am with it will project onto her. Definitely not judging your decision though - just thought I'd throw in another perspective (and possibly all my details make this post better suited for another topic????)

Now, I notice you refer to your childrens' birthmothers as their mom. I find that really interesting :) I always always always refer to Meg and Rachel as Brennan & Kayleigh's birthmothers - I don't think I've ever referred to either of them as their mom. There have been times when I'm with people and they'll say "Kayleigh's mom" or "Brennan's mom/real mom" and I'm totally not offended by that - I know what they mean and if it seems like a good opportunity to give them an adoption language primer, I will do that but there are times when it just isn't the time/place to do so and I just let it go, it really doesn't make me feel any sort of anxiety inside when that happens (unless someone was intentionally trying to make me feel like I'm NOT their mom since I didn't give birth to them but that's another story and I'd have bigger fish to fry with them other than teaching them positive adoption language). The one I've always struggled with was what to call Joanna (especially before I knew her name). Now, I can just say "Joanna" and everyone who is familiar with our story knows who Joanna is - but there are still times when I refer to her as my birth daughter - but that just sounds SOOOO cumbersome! But, if I say "my daughter", then I feel like (for someone who doesn't know our story) I'm misrepresenting her or slighting her parents and their role in her life - and also, for someone who knows Kayleigh (my daughter who I am raising) but doesn't know Joanna and I say "my daughter" referring to Joanna - it will just create a bunch of confusion I think for them so in that case, I say "birth daughter" and will give a brief explanation on what the deal is with that. And then...there are times when Joanna and I are together when someone will ask if she's my daughter and I say yes (to avoid confusion) or will ask her if I'm her mom and she'll say yes (to avoid confusion) and that seems fine too - it's just not a simple/one size fits all sort of thing - at least for me. LOL, clear as mud as they say :)

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I think that part of my problem comes with some of the training we have had, and that our girls' adoption stories are their own, to share or not. They are free to do whatever, but I don't know that Nichole would be comfortable having me tell everyone her (birth) mom's name knowing how private she is. As much as Nichole takes after C, she may really value privacy and appreciate the fact that I have protected that for her. She may not care, but to me that is her story to share, not mine to broadcast everywhere. I speak positively about their choices for placement and only really discuss it much when someone gives it a negative spin. Again, I feel that it is my girls' story to share, not mine.

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suziandben    134

I'm basically with Amanda. Who knows what the future holds but for right now...

on placement day collin's birthmom specifically stated she did not want her name or her picture on the internet. in honoring that request I have not blogged her name, posted it on this forum, or any other open medium. i did use her name in emails to family and friends. i have not emailed her photo to them. email is just too hard to control the distribution and our family and friends got to the point of reading our adoption updates like the daily enquirer. we got baby gifts from in-laws of in-laws ... because they forwarded our emails of our adoption journey. i did include a picture of her in our christmas letter/birth announcement because it's a lot easier to control the distribution of paper than email and it was a fairly safe way to honor her.... which was really important to us that we did honor her in that announcement.

i hold some level of a feeling of sacredness for collin's birthmom. i use her name in conversation here and there but most often it doesn't feel quite right to use her name. the thing that often happens if i bring her up in conversation is that the conversation then becomes about her... "well is she young" ... "did she have other children?" ... random prying questions. i don't think it's appropriate to blab about her life to people who don't know her or care about her - certainly i don't feel it right to blab about her love life and finances or any other circumstances that lead to collin's placement. if I refer to her as collin's birthmom ... i don't get as many questions.

as is the case in life, i don't see an issue with each of doing what we feel is right for our children. none of the responses listed above sounded "harmful" to me (i skimmed so if I missed anything horrifying oops) - i'm not a social worker or an expert but i think it's okay that we all show our love and respect for our children's birthfamilies in different ways.

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kristal    4
... But, if I say "my daughter", then I feel like (for someone who doesn't know our story) I'm misrepresenting her or slighting her parents and their role in her life - and also, for someone who knows Kayleigh (my daughter who I am raising) but doesn't know Joanna and I say "my daughter" referring to Joanna - it will just create a bunch of confusion I think for them so in that case, I say "birth daughter" and will give a brief explanation on what the deal is with that.

I always refer to Colby as my son, and Angie as his Mom and Wade as his Dad. Like when they visited at our baby shower I'd point Colby out and "Thats my son" and I'd point Angie out "Thats his Mom." Even when its people I don't know extremely well. Like I'd really wanted to name this baby Bri, I love that name, but I was explaining to someone that I'd feel silly when Colby was visiting and I'd be introducing my kids, Colby and Bri, but that I didn't name both of them, Colby's Mom suggested his name.

People will either just accept quietly that I've referred to my son and his Mom (which isn't often) or ask why Colby lives with a different Mom. Its always people I know that I share that part of myself with but it doesn't have to be people I know well, just people I constantly interact with, like our Vet, and my swim class teacher. I've felt it was only proper to refer to Angie and Wade as Colby's parents, simply because they are. And thats exactly why I refer to Colby as my son, because he is. Adoption has merged our families in a way that isn't the standard, but we all understand it and it works for us.

Edited by kristal

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Adoption has merged our families in a way that isn't the standard, but we all understand it and it works for us.

I think that this states my feelings perfectly! We are now a part of a larger family, and that is amazing! There are more people to love our girls. I guess it just seems to me that we talk about making positive changes, but we get stuck with keeping distinct words for separating the roles. Some kids have two father figures because of divorce and remarriage. Ours have them because of adoption!!! Why is it that society allows for that in divorce, but not adoption?

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Bri can be short for Brianna, Brianne, or some other name. I think you should name your child whatever you want and not worry about the other. You could always refer to them as your precious little cheese instead of hams. :lol::lol: I hope you're laughing. No offense intended.

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we have portraits of our boys birthmother's in our house. I just think my parents should know their names.

I try to not say anything I think they would not want me to(their birthmoms) on the forum and definatately not all the details of their births.

I respect details are private.

Laural

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Laural, I'm very thankful that you posted that, because it really got me to thinking. I probably need to be more verbal to Arianna, because we just don't have the contact with D that we do with C, so it probably comes a little more natural to speak of C.

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HeidiK    94
Adoption has merged our families in a way that isn't the standard, but we all understand it and it works for us.

I think that this states my feelings perfectly! We are now a part of a larger family, and that is amazing! There are more people to love our girls. I guess it just seems to me that we talk about making positive changes, but we get stuck with keeping distinct words for separating the roles. Some kids have two father figures because of divorce and remarriage. Ours have them because of adoption!!! Why is it that society allows for that in divorce, but not adoption?

Amen Ms Amanda- The world isFILLED with complicated, and complex families- and they are all beautiful!

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S&P Express    22
Laural, I'm very thankful that you posted that, because it really got me to thinking. I probably need to be more verbal to Arianna, because we just don't have the contact with D that we do with C, so it probably comes a little more natural to speak of C.

Amanda,

We don't have contact with our birth mom but we do have something that we do with McKenna. We ask her who loves you? Her response will be Mommy and Daddy and Mama Anna. Then we ask her who is in her heart and her response is Daddy Edurado (he passed away). She knows that we all lover her.

We also have pictures in her room (Mama Anna, Daddy Edurado and McKenna) and in our living room (there is a picture of us, McKenna and Mama Anna)

Paula

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Amanda,

We don't have contact with our birth mom but we do have something that we do with McKenna. We ask her who loves you? Her response will be Mommy and Daddy and Mama Anna. Then we ask her who is in her heart and her response is Daddy Edurado (he passed away). She knows that we all lover her.

We also have pictures in her room (Mama Anna, Daddy Edurado and McKenna) and in our living room (there is a picture of us, McKenna and Mama Anna)

Paula

Paula, I think that is awesome! We have pics for Nichole, but even though I have sent repeated requests, we have yet to receive anything from Arianna's family.

We are looking forward to camp this summer as on the way back we will stop in Houston and see C!!!

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ElizabethAnn    687

On the subject of "positive adoption language," here's the perspective of one offended person (herself an adoptee) who shared her thoughts on this with the readers of the Dallas Morning News and who tells it like it is-- for her, personally:

Posted by Laurel @ 5:45 AM Wed, May 27, 2009

Yes. Letting someone else raise your child is brave and loving and responsible. That's why everyone does it. In fact, whenever I love anyone very much, I make sure to get them out of my life as quickly as possible, because to do otherwise would be selfish...not.

Actually, I really do tend to push away those who love me. Why? I'm adopted, and I grew up hearing "Your mother loved you so much she gave you up." Think about that. Think about getting raised with the notion that love=removing yourself from the beloved's life forever. It's almost always a lie, and it damages children.

The "reality of the adoption decision" is that your gain is someone else's loss. Adopted children also suffer loss, and we suffer unnecessarily when our adoptive parents tell us lies to spare our(or their own)feelings. There is enough secrecy in adoption. Secrecy causes shame.

But yes, let's do embrace these women--at least until we've got what we want. It's very transparent, this "love-bombing" someone who has or had something you want badly. Something that, if you've already got it, might make you feel the tiniest bit guilty about benefiting from a "wonderful decision" very few women have ever wanted to make.

I do agree that "terminology can make or break attitudes toward embracing adoption." That's why I loathe the term "birthmother" or any variant thereof: it reduces women like my mother to breeding machines for the convenience of the higher-class infertile. It's also often applied to women who have not even given birth yet as a means of coercion. Nobody is a "birth mother" until she has given up her child.

Yes, my mother _gave me up_. There is no better or more accurate term. Had I been born at a time when giving birth out of wedlock was not so heavily stigmatized, I would probably not have been adopted. Now that the stigma is gone, most women keep their babies. I guess they would rather have their own family than help form someone else's. Selfish creatures! Don't they know they could be mature, selfless, courageous soopa-heroines?

For more on this subject and the public response to it in Dallas, click here.

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Guy & Linda    0

ummmm..... I am at a loss. I'm stunned by the bitterness on this blog - language like "adoption is living abortion," "candy coating," "lipstick on a pig" and so forth. I can see that many adoptees resent the idea that their birth parents loved them so much they gave them up/placed them/whatever wording their adopted parents used. BUT - this very idea is fundamental in Abrazo's teachings, and from our perspective it makes sense. If the concept is offensive to adoptees, what on earth are we supposed to say to our precious children when the time comes? The last thing Guy and I want is for Heath to feel abandoned or resentful.

It seems like most of those bloggers resent the adoption scenario as a whole. Sure it would be a wonderful world if every birth family were financially and emotionally able to provide a stable and loving home for their children to grow up in. But we all know the sad reality that some are not. As a "higher class infertile" I feel like a guilt trip is being thrust upon me which I do not deserve. The couple who chose us to adopt Heath appeared to be happy that he is going to be raised in a stable and healthy family. They certainly did not make us feel like vultures. Neither did any of the birth mothers we spoke to on the phone before our match with Heath's bp's.

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I wonder if this adoptee is mad at how and when her adoption story was told to her. Did her adoptive parents keep in touch with the birthparents? Was it the closed manner that made it hurt so much?

I don't think the anger can help her feel anything but so hopefully she can find some ways and persons to talk to and get the anger out of her system.

I just think us infertile couples and adoptive parents are doing the best we can. I communicate with both our birthmother's whether or not I hear from them because it is good for our kids to keep that relationship open.

I do it because I want to not because I have to.

Laural

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So here is something I've been thinking about for a while, and I thought you call could help me with it. Since we don't have any contact wtih Mikey's birthparents per their own decision, I keep thinking it's going to be harder for us to explain to him his adoption story than if we had contact. We still send pictures and cards to Abrazo, hoping his BP will someday call and ask for them. But everytime I think about how to start this conversation with Mikey when he's a bit older... I can't find the right answer. We have a picture of her, and I've shown it to Mikey a couple of times. But how do we teach him to understand who she is, if we don't know how likely it is that he'll ever meet her?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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