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The Power Of Words



The Power of Words

When I was going through my IVF treatments, I would sit at home each evening and write about the day’s progress – how many follicles were developing, how long I’d had to wait at the clinic, an analysis of every important word I’d heard uttered by various medical staff and details of how I was feeling, both physically and emotionally.

I wasn’t writing with any purpose in mind; I wrote because I didn’t know what else to do and pouring my thoughts onto paper seemed to help me to make some sense of the emotional turmoil I was experiencing. At the time of writing, there wasn’t a single thought in my mind about publishing my stream of consciousness – it was just something I felt I needed to do.

I had no idea that the concept of writing as a form of therapy had been well established for decades. Back in the 1960s, American psychologist Dr Ira Progoff discovered that when his clients wrote about their experiences, they were able to get through difficulties more quickly and easily. He developed what was known as the Intensive Journal Method to help people to use writing effectively, working with ring binder folders divided into sections to represent the different areas of their lives. The idea of the healing nature of writing was further popularised by psychologist Dr James Pennebaker who has been described as a ‘pioneer of writing therapy’. He found that when people wrote down how they felt about any emotional upheaval in their lives for just a few days, there was a marked positive effect; he has since written widely about the impact expressive writing can have.

In recent years, many studies have investigated the therapeutic nature of writing, and it is increasingly apparent that there are clear benefits to writing when we are trying to deal with traumatic or stressful events. Although you may feel as if you are dwelling on a problem by focusing on it in this way, research has found that writing can lead to improvements in both physical and emotional health – there have been a wide variety of claims about the positive impact for everything from boosting the immune system to lowering the heart rate.

From a fertility point of view, there is no suggestion that writing about how you feel will get you pregnant, but it may well improve your overall well-being and ability to deal with the ups and downs of treatment. Israeli writer David Grossman put it very neatly in a lecture delivered in 2007: “As soon as we lay our hand on the pen, or the computer keyboard, we already cease to be the helpless victims of whatever it was that enslaved and diminished us before we began to write” – and this is certainly true of anyone who feels overwhelmed by their fertility problems.

Dr Gillie Bolton is a world-renowned expert on the therapeutic nature of writing, and a former senior research fellow at King’s College London. She has written numerous academic papers and books on the subject and says writing allows people to express emotions that may otherwise feel too difficult or challenging. “Writing can be therapeutic in difficult situations because it can enable exploration and expression of feelings and experience in a relatively safe way,” she says.

“Writing is private until the writer chooses to share it with another. Conversation, even with a trusted person, can feel dangerously exposing: we cannot ask them to forget what we’ve told them. Writing’s very privacy makes for a safe space in which to help otherwise un-shareable stuff to surface, be reflected upon, come to terms with, and ultimately be shared.”

Many fertility patients choose to share their feelings more publicly via online blogging, and Laura Costello is one of many bloggers who found writing helped during the tough times. She chronicled the journey of her attempts at donor conception with her partner Amy on her blog (

Laura did eventually get pregnant and still writes her blog about life with their much-loved daughter. She says the blog has been helpful in a number of ways: “I started writing because not only does it give me something to look back on in the future, it also allows me to organise my thoughts. That was really important at particularly low times, allowing me to step back and take stock.”

Lancaster University PHD student Karen Kinloch has been researching fertility blogs, and believes their growing popularity is part of a wider trend. “Blogging generally has increased, especially for women in the age group who are most likely to be affected by fertility issues, aged 24-49,” she explains. “Blogging offers both the community aspect of a support group with the anonymity the internet affords.

Several of my case-study bloggers mention they feel judged when they talk about their infertility in real life or feel they will be bombarded with insensitive advice – like ‘relax and it will happen’. The blogging community will often be asked for advice as experts in navigating the fertility treatment process and may feel more reliable than other internet health sites (not that this is necessarily the case).”

Dani Fenning started her blog,, soon after she was diagnosed with unexplained infertility. “I was finding it difficult to sleep after our diagnosis because I had so many thoughts and questions running through my head; simply writing them down helped me work through these feelings.

I was also finding it difficult to talk to friends and family about what we had been going through and what we were about to undergo with fertility treatment, so I realised that sharing my thoughts about our infertility would help me to overcome what I found initially to be very awkward!

At the beginning I kept my blog for close friends and family, but on the day of our very first IVF embryo transfer I sat in the surgery preparation area thinking ‘Why am I hiding this huge life-changing event?’ I asked my husband, Chris, how he felt about sharing this moment with everyone, and he agreed with me that we would no longer keep it a secret. So later that day we shared a photo of our two embryos with a link to my blog on Facebook. The overwhelming love and support we received was incredible.”

Dani has been even more open about her fertility and her blog in recent weeks as it was circulated widely by her friends, family and colleagues after she was caught up in the terrorist attack at Brussels airport. Dani was having a cup of coffee in the departures lounge when the first bomb exploded, and describes in her blog how she threw herself to the floor before the second bomb went off, showering her with debris and sending a fireball across the ceiling.

She decided to write about what she experienced in Brussels on her blog because it has always been her therapy, not only for going through infertility but for other things in her life too. Her post about finding herself in the midst of a terrorist attack is incredibly moving and as a result, her fertility blog has reached many who might never have had any understanding of what trying to conceive unsuccessfully can feel like. By writing about something which was of such interest to so many people, Dani’s blog has helped to raise awareness about the realities of living with fertility problems in a way she never anticipated.

Raising awareness was not Jody Day’s main concern either when she wrote her first blog post about being childless five years ago.

“At the time, I felt like the only childless woman in the world as no one in my circle of friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances had wanted to be a mother and it hadn’t worked out,” Jody explains. “When I did try to talk about it, all I ever seemed to get back were ‘miracle baby stories’ rather than the empathy I craved. For me, blogging gave me a chance, for the first time, to ‘say’ my thoughts out loud in public without being interrupted with ‘useful’ advice about fertility.

It seemed that though I was facing up to the end of my 15-year journey to become a mother, no one else wanted to! As I pressed ‘publish’ on that first blog in April 2011 I remember thinking, ‘If just one person reads this it will be enough’.”

In fact, within days, women from around the world were getting in touch to say how much Jody’s blog had resonated with them and she began to realise quite how many other women shared her feelings. “I continued to blog and the responses from others helped my shattered confidence and sense of self regroup,” she explains. “My writing, as well as helping me articulate my loss, was helping others do the same. Therapeutic writing gave me back my voice, my sanity, my confidence and my tribe. I think it saved my life.”

Jody Day still blogs ( but she would never have expected that her first blog post would eventually lead to a global network of Gateway Women who offer one another mutual support in dealing with childlessness. Jody has also progressed from blogging to writing a book, Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, which has been described as a “must read for every childless-by-circumstance woman”.

My writing finally led to books too and my scribbled notes during my IVF cycles turned out to have another use I’d never have anticipated as I went back to them many times during the writing process. I’d had an unsuccessful fresh cycle, followed by an unsuccessful frozen one and I decided that if my IVF wasn’t going to work, perhaps at least there was a way of turning a negative experience into something worthwhile. By that point, my desire to write about what was happening to me had been overtaken by a desire to write for other people about all the things I’d wished someone had told me before I’d started on the path of fertility tests and treatment.

My first book was finally picked up by a publisher and I’ve gone on to write three more since, including The Complete Guide to IVF and a book for those who are pregnant or parents after fertility problems called Precious Babies which I wrote after conceiving twice with IVF.

For me, having worked as a journalist for many years, telling my own story felt surprisingly comfortable – but you don’t have to be aiming to write a book, or even a blog for public consumption, to benefit from the therapeutic powers of writing.

If you’ve never done it before, the idea of putting your thoughts down may seem daunting, but this is writing for you, not for anyone else. You don’t have to worry about spelling or grammar or making sense and it doesn’t matter if your mind (and words) keep jumping from one thing to the next in a random way. This is an opportunity to splurge onto the page whatever you feel like getting out. Some people find it easier to write at the end of the day or first thing in the morning before getting out of bed, but you don’t have to write at any specific time, or even every day – just write when you feel you can.

Dr Gillie Bolton says the secret is feeling free to write whatever comes into your mind: “Therapeutic writing is wonderful for those who have never previously written a journal or any other creative form. To start all you need to do is allow your hand to write whatever comes, for a few minutes. This permission is the key: allowing thoughts and feelings, images or memories, to flow onto the page. To help you do this, find a place and time you can be happily alone, knowing no one will interrupt. Then follow these few minutes free flow with an enjoyable, straightforward game such as writing a list (e.g. ‘things I enjoyed doing when I was little’).”

So why not try occasionally devoting a little time to letting your thoughts go and see where it leads? If you find it helpful, you may want to think about starting your own blog. It’s incredibly easy to do using blog creation sites such as Blogger or WordPress and you can make it completely anonymous, if you prefer.

However, as Karen Kinloch points out, blogging is not only helpful to those who write blogs, but also to those who read them. “I think it can decrease feelings of isolation which might occur when you are having fertility problems. There is lots of literature on the benefits of therapeutic writing and health and I think this applies equally to writing and publishing online.”

Dani Fenning would certainly agree, and she urges everyone to give blogging a try: “It is a sensitive and personal issue, but blogging about my infertility has helped me through some really bad days, days when I’ve had tears rolling down my cheeks as I type. But the support I have received through my blogging has kept me going through those tough days, so I would recommend it to anyone fighting this disease. I have also met some incredible TTC sisters through my blog, women who have been through what we have – it really helps to be able to discuss our experiences with one another. I realised that I was not alone.”

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Mental Health

Here Are Some Tips To Break The Invisible Wall



The Invisible Wall

“Most relationships fail because we spend too much time pointing out each other’s mistakes and not enough time enjoy each other’s company.” – Unknown

Struggles through infertility can tend to take over your life. The constant stress of the treatments and the repeated disappointments can definitely strain the relationship between partners. Women may feel more irritable & emotional and her partner may feel helpless and worried. This makes for a difficult combination for any conversation to occur! Slowly there is an invisible wall starting to appear between the couple, emotions take over and make it even more difficult to talk.

With infertility, making a baby isn’t sexy. It isn’t fun. It’s stressful. It’s hard. It’s hormonal. It’s just miserable. The process truly is a make or break on relationships. Women can especially feel volatile just like a volcano about to blast at anytime with no warning. One minute you are positive, the next negative, becoming miserable, seemingly out of the blue. It can become exhausting for the partner quickly. The invisible wall gets thicker and taller… Sound and feel familiar?

Infertility can be an awful journey if the partners are not truly supporting and caring for each other. I have heard so many stories where partners are separating temporarily or permanently due to the stress and struggles with infertility. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Here are some tips to break the invisible wall…

1. To the woman who is in the thick of infertility, pay some attention to your partner. Ask them how they are doing. One of my clients asked her husband that very question on Father’s Day, and he broke down. Men also feel it, they just feel it differently.

2. To the woman struggling through this process, allow your man to be vulnerable. As a man, vulnerability with your partner doesn’t make you weak, it makes you even stronger. I have seen many relationships become very successful amidst the pain and struggles, when there is vulnerability between the couple. It strengthens your bond and makes you closer.

3. To both partners, when emotions are running high, remove yourself from the situation, take some time to collect yourself. Don’t talk or act when emotions are running high. The invisible wall gets higher when emotions are high.

4. Remind yourself and your partner frequently that “Together, we will make it thru this too”. Saying it out loud makes a world of difference and gives a great comfort to the other partner.

5. Get professional help, specifically someone who truly been there and understands the infertility struggle. They can help with tools and techniques to slowly eliminate relationship struggles, help identify the relationship goals and help you move forward positively in your life with or without successful fertility treatments.

Don’t let the invisible wall keep growing stronger and taller. Find ways to break the wall down slowly. Infertility shouldn’t be the reason for a relationship to break! Take small steps forward.

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Mental Health

20 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Struggling With Infertility!




“You may never know what someone is going through, but if you notice any signs of pain—hostility, negativity, or over-sensitivity—then odds are, you know how they feel. Respond to the pain instead of judging the signs.” Lori Deschene

I have unexplained infertility and my fertility journey was very long and painful with almost 8 years of failed treatments. I had 3 miscarriages, 3 IUI failures and 8 back to back IVF failures. It was an emotional roller coaster. I struggled in silence for the major part of my journey. I avoided talking to people with the fear that they will ask me about having kids. I avoided going to India (where all my family is) for 4 years in a row giving all sorts of bullshit (pardon my language here) reasons on why I can’t go. I wore a mask at work and never talked about anything personal. Talking to friends and family members was a nightmare especially who recently became pregnant or had a child!

I always avoid telling others about my infertility journey to avoid the comments that can really sting, let my blood pressure rise and bite my tongue, to put it mildly. There are sometimes where I wanted to react in a more animated fashion to those somewhat insensitive and ignorant comments.

This doesn’t just happen to me. It happens to many of us who are struggling with pregnancy loss, primary or secondary infertility. I recently put a question (What is that one thing that people say annoys you most about infertility?) to an online FB support group and its members had overwhelming response talking about their personal experience with these insensitive comments.

This list is based on my personal experiences and the collective experiences from many amazing souls going through fertility challenges including my wonderful fertility clients.

I am writing this to create awareness to those people who haven’t experienced infertility, who typically say things like this (many times with good intentions) to others going through infertility.

Here are 20 things NOT to ask/say people going through infertility:

  1. When are you going to have a baby? You are running out of time.
  2. Just relax, it will happen
  3. Drink a glass of Wine, it will happen
  4. Go on vacation, it will happen
  5. Stop trying, it will happen
  6. Lose weight
  7. You are young, you have plenty of time
  8. Do this, try this, it worked for, it will happen (Varies all the way from eating McDonald’s fries to using essential oils)
  9. For people with secondary infertility or have experienced losses before- You at least know you can get pregnant
  10. I know a bunch of ladies who’ve had babies in their 40’s! Don’t worry, it will happen
  11. To people with secondary infertility- At least you’ve got one, you’re so lucky, you might just have to be happy with one
  12. You are lucky you don’t have kids yet! (or) It’s so hard having so many kids
  13. You can have one of mine
  14. My husband looks at me and I get pregnant (or) I sneeze near my husband and I get pregnant
  15. Comments by a younger couple – We tried for a really long time( 2-3 months) to get pregnant, I understand your frustration
  16. Don’t worry, the technology is so good these days!
  17. Have you thought about adopting? it will kick-start your hormones and you’ll get pregnant. It happened to my (insert random relative)
  18. If God thought you were ready, you’d be pregnant.
  19. Maybe it’s just not meant to be (or) whatever is going to happen will happen.
  20. It’s not just the words, it’s the body language too- When people ask if I have children and I say, I do not, their reply almost always is, you never wanted kids?! With a surprised look on their face.

Even today at my nail salon, my manicurist asked me, how many kids, I said one(adopted). How old, 5 years. The next question immediately, you don’t want to have more???? You should have more..

This article is not intended to judge or blame those folks who say these comments. Many of you say these things out of good heart and well intentions. You all want to support and care for your loved one dearly.

Just keep in mind, these words can and will create a deeper wound to people going through fertility struggles. Because many of us are desperately seeking and doing whatever it takes to get and stay pregnant and yet it’s just not happening.

Unless you have experienced infertility, it’s hard to understand and relate to the pains and struggles all around. Infertility affects ones overall being- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Here is one suggestion I will offer to people who are supporting a friend or a loved one.

Tell them, I may not truly understand what you are going through, but remember, I am here for you. And give them a big hug. Sometimes that’s all we need to feel better even a teeny tiny bit!

“Sometimes, what a person needs is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.” Anonymous

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Mental Health

Fertility Treatment Survival Skills



Fertility Treatment Survival Skills

Practical and Emotional Top Tips from Iris Fertility Sherpa Natasha Canfer, Clients and Colleagues.

As the founder of Iris Fertility – an organisation offering bespoke practical and emotional support and companionship to individuals before, during and after fertility treatment – I am regularly asked what people can do to help manage the challenges that fertility treatment throws at them. Together with Iris Fertility clients and colleagues, I’ve put together our top tips, insights and nuggets of information.

  1. Put Yourself First Throughout the Process

Go gently, treat yourself kindly and say ‘no’ to people who are going to sap your emotional energy especially when treatment’s underway or you’re in the 2 Week Wait (2WW) – finding interest in or compassion for anyone else while you’re in the throes of fertility treatment can be challenging. Put activities on hold that you’re not interested in or can’t face. If you feel like you ‘should’ be doing something with someone then probably best to avoid! Be aware that how you feel day to day (and even within the day) is likely to change.

Don’t put off taking that first step – that might be going to your GP or going directly to a clinic for a Fertility MOT.

Don’t do too much of your own research – it can be mind boggling, confusing and cause anxiety.

Seeking the support of an individual or organisation (like Iris Fertility) who knows the process really helped us with having a sounding board away from the clinic environment. We could ask the questions we didn’t necessarily want to ask our clinic and raise concerns we weren’t able to share with friends and family. Don’t leave a niggle or a doubt unsaid.’ Loretta, Somerset

2. Trust Your Gut Feeling

Follow your instincts. Those instincts or your gut feeling might not appear to be logical but if something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t for you – even if you can’t pinpoint the reason.

3. Inform Yourself

Depending on your circumstances, appointments at fertility clinics can feel overwhelming. You might be presented with a lot of information and it can be difficult to take in exactly what’s being said and what that means for you – particularly if you’ve just received tests results that aren’t as you’d hoped. Also, a clinic may only give you information that’s specific to the services it offers rather than providing you with an overview of what might be available to you nationally and globally.

‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions – the doctors aren’t gods and they need to be challenged sometimes so that you know they’re doing the best for you as an individual.

Talk to people who have also been through this and don’t bottle things up especially through the 2 Week Wait.

Don’t be scared by the process. Embrace it but be careful as it can become addictive – trust your instincts when it comes to knowing whether you’re ready to say “enough is enough”.’ George, Ireland

Other sources to look into if you feel able are:

Progress Educational Trust (PET) – a UK-based charity which advances public understanding of science, law and ethics in the fields of human genetics, assisted reproduction, embryology and stem cell research: Progress Educational Trust

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – the UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment and research using human embryos. An expert organisation in the fertility sector and the first statutory body of its type in the world:

‘Question, question, question your clinic about all the costs involved and its refund policy.

Ask your clinic about risks of failed fertilisation and unsuccessful thawing of frozen eggs and embryos.

If you opt to use a clinic abroad, check whether you can use a clinic of your choice in the UK alongside that overseas clinic or are you tied to one of their associated clinics?

If you go abroad, factor in how easy it is to arrange scans, blood tests, medication, intralipids, etc. Also work out whether you will easily be able to get flights and accommodation at short notice.

Is the clinic open at weekends and able to work around you?’ Sarah, West Yorkshire

4. Remind Yourself that it’s OK to be in a Different Emotional Place from Your Partner

Depending on your circumstances, it’s possible that you and your partner may want to choose different treatment options or you may find yourselves in a different emotional place from one another. That’s OK and totally understandable. Open and honest ongoing respectful communication with each other is important – and can also be exceptionally tricky especially when emotions and hormones are running high. If you feel that counselling would be beneficial then speak with your clinic about what they can offer you and when. Otherwise, you could locate a specialist infertility counsellor through BICA

Take the time you need.

Talk to your friends. If they are real friends they will want to lend an ear.

It’s OK to recalibrate your understanding of who you are if that’s necessary.’ James, Hertfordshire

5. It’s All About You: ‘Fertility Treatment’ is an Umbrella Term

Ensure that your clinic tailors all your treatment and medication to you and your needs.

6. Who’s Who? Clinic Staff

Make a friend among the clinic staff and ask them for their work contact details. It’s beneficial to have an ally or two on the ‘inside’.

If there’s a staff member who you have strong negative feelings towards for whatever reason and you would prefer them not to be involved in your care then let your clinic know. Most clinic staff work as part of a team and will try and accommodate patient requests of this nature.

I would’ve liked to have treated myself almost as if I was recovering from an illness – very gently. So do what makes you happy or at least calm. Go to places that make your heart sing and your fear retreat. See only those people who make you feel positive and with whom you can be completely yourself.’ Caitlin Allen Acupuncture, West Yorkshire

7. Statistics and Other Numbers are Only Part of the Picture

Perhaps easier said than done but try not to get too hung up on statistics and numbers. No one can say for definite how things are going to work out for you. Ultimately you need one egg, one sperm and one womb to get along with each other. If you’re comparing clinics then make sure you’re comparing like for like statistics. The figure you’ll probably be most interested in is the live birth rate for the female age group relevant to your situation.

8. Check Out Donor Conception Network

If you’re considering using donated eggs, sperm or embryos then check out Donor Conception Network (DCN) as soon as you can but preferably before you even start any treatment or become pregnant. Donor Conception Network is a charity and supportive network of more than 2,000 mainly UK-based families with children conceived with donated sperm, eggs or embryos; those considering or undergoing donor conception procedures; and donor conceived people. Staff, volunteers and network members have a wealth of knowledge, information and expertise about all things past and present in the world of donation including the possible impact of telling or not telling donor-conceived children about their genetic heritage:

‘If you wish to find the best possible fit with a surrogate mum, then Surrogacy UK is a great association to join. With their ‘friendship first’ ethos, get togethers are organised so that friendships can be formed before Teams are created.

Speaking as a two-time surrogate mother, I felt that finding the couple to team-up with was all about friendship chemistry. Being open, honest and approachable is a good way to connect with a potential surrogate. It may feel scary at first and you may feel exposed and vulnerable, but it works both ways. Imagine a year down the line when your surrogate/friend is about to birth your baby, she will be trusting you to hold that space for her, as the baby is delivered at long last in your arms.’ Jay Kelly, Surrogate, Baby Alchemy

9. Going Abroad – Is the Grass as Green as You Think?

If you’re thinking about going abroad for treatment, investigate what the implications of doing so could be for you and any future children. Here are just a handful of things to consider:

  • If your UK clinic is encouraging you to go to a particular overseas clinic then is it affiliated in some way to that clinic? If so, how and what does that mean for you and those clinics?
  • How is the overseas clinic regulated?
  • What’s the legal situation regarding types of fertility treatment in the country (or state) of your choosing?
  • Which screening tests are performed on patients and partners?
  • How much is it going to cost you financially, physically and emotionally especially by the time you’ve factored in flights and accommodation?
  • If you’re using a donor abroad then how are they screened and selected?
  • What are the anonymity rules in relation to donors and how would this impact on any child(ren) born from treatment?
  • How many families can a donor donate to and what could this mean in terms of the number of half siblings for your potential child?

10. DIY Donor Sperm – Future Proof Yourself

If you’re using donor sperm outside of a clinic environment then before you even start preparing for pregnancy ensure that your personal safety is paramount. Also, get legal advice regarding your specific situation and make sure you have legal agreements in place in relation to your particular circumstances.

11. Remember the Adult Child

While your focus may initially be on you becoming pregnant, your goal is to have a baby. That baby will hopefully grow to become an adult so when making decisions around the types of treatment you are willing to undertake, consider how your future (adult) child at different life stages could feel about any decisions you make and the impact of your choices on them.

12. Include Your Partner

It might feel that the spotlight is on the individual physically undergoing the fertility treatment so actively include (and encourage your clinic to include) your partner if you have one.

13. Changing Times

The nature of fertility treatment changes all the time so if it’s been taking you a while to get that baby into your arms you might begin to wonder if a particular treatment had been available to you earlier then whether life would have worked out differently. Be kind to yourself and remember that on your quest to become a parent you can only make your best decision with all the information you have available to you at the time the decision needs to be made.

14. Escape!

Develop a new hobby or skill in which you can immerse yourself and that can be done at any time regardless of the stage of treatment you’re at. Current favourites to distract clients are escape rooms, singing and learning a new language.

15. Funding

If you’re eligible to receive NHS funding but you’re not sure you want to have treatment in your allocated NHS fertility clinic then you could investigate the possibility of transferring your funding for use in a private fertility clinic.
If you’re not eligible to receive NHS funding or it’s not available in your area then speak to your clinic about any payment plans it might offer. You could also look into specialist fertility funding organisations which provide IVF refund schemes and multi-cycle programmes.

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