Partum Me?! How Many Kids is TOO Many?

By Laura |

My husband and I recently started talking about a subject we never really thought we’d entertain: having a second child.  Before you type that comment, we know it’s early and we have no plans to start trying for #2 any time soon.  But we do talk about all the peripheral things that need to happen before Charlie gets a brother or sister like paying for daycare for two, buying a bigger house to accommodate a growing family, and whether or not we want the added responsibility of another little person.  While we’re pretty sure that we’ll give Charlie a sibling if finances and timing work out, we are also very concerned about our footprint as a family.  Even though it seems like the press prefers to focus on Kardashian marriages, there is quite a bit of information out there about the impending water and fuel shortages, not to mention climate change, that could plague this planet if our consumption rate of these resources continues to grow at such a speedy rate.  (And for the record, I think Kim and Kris should give it another shot.)

My sensibilities about family size were inflamed by the announcement that Michelle Duggar is pregnant with her 20th child.  For those who don’t know, the Duggars have a show on TLC all about their gigantic family.  They have 19 kids, ranging in age from early 20s to their youngest daughter, a 2 year old, who was born prematurely at 25 weeks.  That pregnancy posed great physical risk to both mother and child, as each of them faced long and difficult post-partum recoveries.  There is a religious element to this story, but I’d prefer to focus on the element that I think is most important in all of this: social responsibility.

It is certainly not my place to judge and I wish Michelle Duggar a happy, healthy, and safe pregnancy.  And as a staunch feminist, I would fight to the ends of the earth to maintain her right to have (or not to have) as many children as she chooses.  It’s the choice made that bothers me.  The good side of all of this is that the Duggars make a hefty living off their TV show, which pays for their large home, food, and clothing for all their children.  They also home-school, so the local school system is not burdened by the cost of teaching 20 children for a family whose property taxes are the same whether they have 1 child in a school system or…20.

But this is where the positive points end and the logistical questions start to pop up.  What happens when the finicky entertainment industry decides they are no longer entertaining enough to have a show?  Look at Kate Gosellin (the mom on the recently canceled “Kate Plus Eight.”)  She has struggled to support her eight children since her show ended.  How do the Duggars justify the amount of trash that a household of 22 (plus the wife and two small children of their oldest son) generates and then dumps into landfills?  Or the gas they consume to power the extra large, multiple vehicles they need to get everyone from one place to the next?

But more importantly than any questions about their environmental impact is the one about how they can possibly give the individual attention and nurturing that each child needs when they have 20 of them.  Generations ago, we had large families because a) there was pretty much no birth control and b) most families had farms that needed to be tended, so more kids meant more farm hands.  Today, that’s not the case for most of us.  We know a lot more about child development and what love, attention, encouragement, and one-on-one time mean to a kid.  The older children in the Duggar house do a lot of the parenting, and they shouldn’t be!  Reaching the age of “babysitter” shouldn’t also mean reaching the end of childhood.  I worry constantly about whether or not I will be “enough” for Charlie and he’s my only child.  From the limited exposure I’ve had to the Duggars’ world, what has stuck out most to me is their seemingly cavalier attitude about the emotional needs of their many children.  Appearing clean, well-mannered, and calm does not always mean that a child feels truly loved.

I have had many conversations with my husband about making sure that adding another child to our family won’t limit our ability to make Charlie and a sibling both feel loved in their own very special way.  Perhaps it is because we both grew up in households that went through periods of instability which makes us sensitive to it, but we feel that part of our social responsibility as parents is to raise future-adults who are self-confident, smart, and worldly.  All of those things come out of being loved as an individual, in our opinion, not as just one member of a brood.

What do you think about the Duggars?  If you are from a large family, how did your experience shape who you are?  If you are a parent to a large family, I’d love to hear what you think!



Laura is mommy to Charlie, who was born in April 2011. If you are in Philadelphia and spot a woman on the bus who is balancing an active toddler and the largest canvas tote that L.L. Bean makes, you've probably spotted her. Always up for a challenge, Laura enjoys her day job as a fundraiser, cooking healthy meals at home for her family, and her new workout hobby - running.

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  1. 1.

    First of all – holy crap. I mean, really… 20 kids! I can barely handle my 2 (almost 3).

    Which brings me to one thing that really bothers me about this. The only way they can function is for the older kids to take on A LOT of responsibility. In other situations when kids “grow up to fast” we feel sorry for them and mourn their loss of a childhood. But, in this situation people celebrate it because the family is orderly.

    I love babies as much as the next person, but 20?! What is the point?

  2. 2.

    20 children is just a lot…in terms of feeding them, caring for them and like you said, making sure they all feel they are getting the individual attention they need and deserve! I have always wanted a big family and by big I mean 3 or 4 kids. We now have 3 boys (trying to decide whether or not to have a 4th child) and I can’t say enough about the joys they bring to my husband and I. They are all so close and just adore each other…of course with a few fights as well! I grew up with 2 siblings…an older sister and a twin brother. I can’t imagine life without them, especially going through tough times like our parents divorce and our dad’s passing. Yes, there are times when relationships can get strained but I think the good times outweigh the bad. On the flip side, I can totally see why parents would make the decision to only have one child. It’s such a personal decision and you just need to follow your heart. Good luck!

  3. 3.

    I was extremely worried when I became pregnant with my second child that my love would somehow have to be “divided” between my two children. I was really concerned that my son wouldn’t receive all the love and attention that he deserved. Thankfully when I had my daughter, I realized that my love wasn’t being divided, it was expanding. I love both of my children very, very much, and in their own separate ways. Now that I’m pregnant with my 3rd child, I know that there will still be enough love to go around for all of my children.

    As far as the Duggars go, you have to admit that those children are smart, spiritual, well-adjusted, and have great values. We need more parents that will teach their children like the Duggars teach theirs. I know several people who shouldn’t even be allowed to have one child. And the whole money issue- even without the show I’m sure the Duggars would be just fine financially. They are more responsible with their money than the majority of Americans, and we could all learn a thing or two from them. That being said, I feel like once you start having grandchildren, it’s definitely time to stop having your own children. That’s just my opinion though. To each their own, and we shouldn’t judge someone on something so personal as the choice that parents have to decide how many children they want to bring into this world.

  4. 4.

    Debbie, just a counterpoint to what you said: How do we know how smart, spiritual, well-adjusted, and moral the Duggar children are? This family is outspoken about their belief in the Quiverfull Movement, a highly sectarian Christian belief system, which abhors the tenets of feminism and claims that the Bible relegates women to the submissive role of housekeeper and baby maker. (And that is not an exaggeration. It’s really what they think.) The most outspoken members of the movement advocate mostly for homeschooling, the purpose of which is to prevent Quiverfull children from being exposed to mainstream kids. And underneath it all is the idea that we must create an army of Christians to fight all of the other religions of the world. In my opinion (and again, I don’t fault anyone for feeling differently), it is not just my responsibility to ensure that Charlie knows how to say please and thankyou. It is also my duty to raise a child who knows and respects the differences that exist among us, who never looks down his nose at someone whose beliefs may be different, who acknowledges the importance of women in our society and their right to CHOOSE whether they work within the home or outside of it. The Duggar children certainly do conduct themselves very nicely on camera and I have no doubt that they have been raised with a keen eye on how they behave in public, but I hesitate to say that they are well-adjusted and have “great values.”

  5. 5.
    K Kay

    I find it amazing that you would compare your struggles with the notion of a second child with the spiritual way that the Duggars look at each and everyone of their children. Ther is a quote you should think about:

    Don’t worry about what people say about you; those are the people finding fault with your life rather than fixing the faults in their own.

    Each and every Duggar child has demonstrated the values of a Responsible, Hard Working, Family Oriented, Appreciative and Spiritual Citizen. It is my hope that there are more families like the Duggars in the world. Thank God for them and that they have provided our country and the world with 19 (hopefully20) model citizens!!!!

  6. 6.

    Sorry K Kay, but I disagree, as you can see from the comment I wrote earlier. I don’t believe that model citizens can be raised in a cultural and religious vacuum. But to each their own!

  7. 7.

    And also, K Kay, your quote isn’t a quote. It’s a made up statement. But thank you anyway!

  8. 8.

    After delivering my first, and only, child in May 2010 by c-section (crazy girl decided to turn breech in my 39th week!), I can honestly say that I have NO idea how it is possible for a woman to carry a pregnancy and deliver a baby 20 times. It will take a lot of prayer and self-motivating to convince myself to go through a pregnancy again!

    That being said, telling them that they should stop having children in order to decrease the water and energy usage in our country seems silly to me. What difference does it make if Michelle has 20 children or 10 other women have only 2 children? What difference does it make if they drive a tour bus to fit their entire family in it when rock stars drive one bus for themselves and a couple of roadies? In a lot of ways, the Dugars do seem to act as frugally and responsibly as possible. At least they do not have 13 cars for each of their teenagers to drive right?

    20 children is not for me, in fact.. I’m with you on debating the IF and WHEN of even contemplating a second child, but we live in the US where it seems that you agree that each person has the freedom to choose how many children is enough for them and what ideology and faith they want to follow. The fact that after being on TV for so many years and they are still married with what appears to be well-adjusted kids at this point, is impressive in my opinon. 🙂

    Thanks for the post!

  9. 9.

    P.S. I have 1 sister and 3 brothers and LOVED having a “big” family .. there was always a lot of creativity and my siblings and I are all very close even to this day … we were raised in the Christian faith (baptist church all our lives) but only 2 of us are still walking in the faith. I imagine it will be similar with the Dugar children, they will eventually grow up to decide for themselves what they believe … I would bet that some of them love having the life that they do and some of them will never want to look at a baby for the rest of their lives 🙂

  10. 10.

    I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I have been watching the Duggars for years, starting about 5 kids ago. I find their family structure and dynamics fascinating.

    This does not mean that I agree with or support any of their views, values or beliefs. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think the parents are doing an immense disservice to their children. Despite being clearly loved and sheltered from a lot of ugliness in the world, they are not given the opportunity to develop any pinking or views of their own or relationships of any kind outside of their family unit and families of similar values. As dumb as Jim Bob may seem, he has put his family in a good financial situation, and that goes back before the show made them rich. They appear to teach their children to be frugal and grateful, which are values more people need these days.

    Sadly, They are not in the least bit aware or interested in becoming aware of the impact that the number of humans on earth consuming the way we consume are having on the resources necessary for all of us to exist. Last night both parents assured the camera that overpopulation is a myth, because Arkansas has alot of barren land. Oh, ok, we’re all good then. They buy horribly over-processed, low cost food products (I won’t even call it food) and their every meal is eaten with disposable plates and utensils. That is no way to live. Not to mention the garbage they make, just to save the older girls some dish doing time to keep them free to do other parental/ housekeeping chores.
    And what is with acting like they don’t know what THEY did to be pregnant for the 18th time. Whether or not you think it’s a gift, blessing from god to become pregnant, it’s actually The direct result of an act of two humans. So if they could please stop referring to god as the reason they have 20 kids. It’s because you had sex while ovulating. Period!

    So, I’ll continue to be moderately entertained by this dilusional family, but I hope at least a few of those kids are able to break out, see the real world and make an informed opinion.

    I did have a point… It was something like… Stop having kids already.

  11. 11.

    Ok, I think you are being a little harsh, but that’s ok. I don’t think any one would judge you for only having one child. Personally, I feel sorry for kids that are only children. I can’t imagine growing up without siblings. My neighbor is an only child and spends all his free time at my house. I had 7, and we did not live on a farm. And like the Duggars, my dad worked hard and smart to support us so my Mom could be home with us. Many may question your decision to let day care workers raise your child. I have done daycare in my home, and believe me, those children learned more from me than their parents. And spent more time with me. Everyone has to make the choices that are right for them, and, like my mom taught me, it is not my place to judge or speak ill of them.

    As for those worried about being able to love and care for more than one child – I have 5, and have no doubt that they feel completely loved and secure. Their father and I are strong and sure in our marriage, and they feel that. They know we love them and will do anything for them.

    I saw a saying that I loved – anyone that says you can’t love a 5th child as much as the first – doesn’t have 5 children.

    One more thought. The people that are having children now, those children will some day be responsible for this country. So if educated, hard working, contributing citizens decide to only have one or none, who will be left. Because where I live the uneducated population that live off the system are not slowing down their reproduction

  12. 12.

    You aren’t judging or speaking ill, but you said that I’m allowing daycare workers to raise my son. How is that anything other than a purposeful low blow? Clearly you have not read any of my other posts or you would know that Charlie doesn’t go to daycare full time AND that I think a valuable lesson for him to learn (from ME) is that women (like his mom) can work outside the home if they want. If you are worried about anyone teaching your children besides you, I sure hope you’re homeschooling. Children spend more time in school and at after school activities than with their parents, too.

    My opinions are just that…opinions. I was trying to spark conversation. Taking personal shots at me and my son isn’t a contribution to that discussion.

  13. 13.
    Katie L.

    First, I want to say Laura, that you wanted a nice conversation or something like that, but whenever anyone’s views were different than yours on this post you jumped on it and that just seems exceptionally rude to me.

    Second, You may find it impossible for a large family to feel the love of a small family. I have to say that my family growing up (7kids) had and still does have more love and devotion to one another than any other family that I’ve ever met. (Including my husband’s family where there were 11 children total and my best friends’ family where she was an only child) Love is not counted by the amount of shoes you own…or the car your parents buy you when you’re old enough to drive.

    Third… I don’t suppose you think they should have gotten an abortion for say 19 of their 20 children? I know, how about they simply get snipped or tied? =(

    I’m currently struggling to conceive our first child…we’ve been struggling for 2 years. I don’t know what pregnancy’s like. I don’t know what it’s like to be a first time mom…but I do know what it’s like to be a sister, an aunt (29x over), a daughter, and a friend. I do know what it’s like to love children and I try to follow God’s plan in my life.

    ps…get your facts straight before you go posting and arguing with people. The Duggar children ARE well-behaved and well-rounded children. They experience life and they all love one another.

    Finally, I wasn’t raised in some weird cult. I was raised as a Christian with Christian values and morals. I went to public school. Heaven forbid my parents only had to pay taxes once to send all 7 of us to school. Big family dynamics just work for big families and having many to lean on in times of need is especially nice.

  14. 14.

    I don’t want to say this to be argumentative, but I just want you to think about something. You said in your post that you wanted to teach your child to respect differences. Why don’t you respect the Duggar’s differences? It seems like all the people proclaiming “respect differences” are usually against the Christians. This lady believes that God wants her to have that many children, than you should respect that as a difference.
    Perhaps she has considered global impact, but is trusting in God to sustain the earth until her calls her and her little ones to heaven. 🙂

  15. 15.
    Mary Beth Elderton

    This is the most refreshing commentary on this topic I have read so far! Thank you! I have been reading postings extolling the religious virtue of this family and have refrained from comment, because, frankly, I could think of nothing “nice” to say. This family does not represent virtue in the world we now have. It is rather an example of extreme selfishness and self-absorption on the part of these parents to be so far removed from the realities of the world and their impact on it. How WOULD this family meet even the most basic needs of this many children without a lucrative TV contract, while many families struggle with one or two kids in this economy? I am sorry that such a family is being somehow glorified in this way. This is another example of America’s fascination with sociological train wrecks like Paris Hilton, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Sarah Palin, and Herman Cain.

  16. 16.

    Well, I recognize that you are already getting pretty strong response, so I’ll keep mine short. I think that you are being harsh on the Duggars family also. Our fertility rate in the US is well below replacement because of families like yours who have only one child. If this keeps up, we will not even have enough manpower to take care of the older generation. Or keep our economy stable. I didn’t come from a really big family, just 4 brothers, but it was so much fun. So loud and active! My friends who had one or no siblings always played with us because we were the life of the neighborhood. There is a different kind of attention when you have more children. Yes it is harder to do one-on-one time, but it is possible, and the kids get the added benefit of interacting with each other. Which contributes a lot to growing into functioning adults. I just added my second child and did worry about my son not getting as much attention. He cared A LOT at first, but now he has a blast with his 7 mo sister. We play together and I can tell he is having more fun. I don’t care how many kids the Duggar family has as long as they don’t live of the system. And I don’t think it is anyones right to criticize their love for children. Truthfully, when it comes down to it, I too feel sorry for Charlie that keeping your job means more to you than spending your whole existence on him. To me, mothering is a full time job. I can’t afford to miss even one day.

  17. 17.
    Denise L

    Thank you for being brave enough to bring this up. I have two children and as much as I’d like a third, I seriously think about the impact that my growing family would have on this planet. In the US we are extremely spoiled and I don’t think we realize that one of us uses the same amount of resources of a whole village in a developing country. The trend for upper middle class families to have 4, 5, 6+ kids is disturbing. I can’t cast judgment on them, because like you said, those are very personal decisions. I just wish we, as Americans, would have some foresight as to what we are doing to our world. We have the wealth, resources and education to plan our families. Our future generations are going to be faced with enormous struggles if we don’t collectively do a better job of planning.

  18. 18.

    Some of the woman reading your blog are really bitchy.:/
    I agree with you.
    I think 20 is way too many,and having another child after there were so many problems with the last? Being pregnant so many times is dangerous for the mother AND the child,especially at her age. She’s just asking for problems. 19 is MORE than enough,and I think it’s extremely irresponsible to being having yet another.
    I also don’t think it’s fair to have the older children raising the younger. In the few shows I’ve watched,they do the majority of the work.
    As a middle child with 2 siblings,I felt like I had to compete for my parents attention,I can’t even imagine having 19 other siblings to compete with! There is no possible way you can give each of them the attention they deserve.

  19. 19.

    I’m just tired of seeing this hashed out over and over. Why is this news? There’s so much else going on in the world, why are the Duggar’s decisions so damn important?

    That being said, I agree with previous poster who had this to say.
    “You said in your post that you wanted to teach your child to respect differences. Why don’t you respect the Duggar’s differences?”

    And I firmly believe that if you aren’t involved with the act of conception, it’s none of your business.

  20. 20.
    Rachel C

    The Duggars were getting along just fine (living debt free) before the show, and they’ll get along just fine if/when their show in cancelled. They are raising their children to love and serve – how could the world not want more people like that?
    I personally wouldn’t be able to handle that many kids, but I do watch the show and try to learn from how they run their household and how they interact with their kids. I’m inspired by her patience!

  21. 21.

    I just gave birth to my 8th child 2 weeks ago and couldn’t imagine NOT having a large family.

    First of all, for the Duggars……..we only see a Very small piece of their lives on TV. I hear many people say that the older kids are parenting the younger ones but I don’t see this as the case. Large families work differently than small families…..they have to. My older children all have chores, and they also help their younger siblings with things like getting dressed, fixing a sippy cup, even changing the occasional diaper. My 15 year old knows how to cook, her and my 12 year old know how to do laundry and clean a bathroom or dishes. They aren’t responsible for these tasks every day but they are required to pitch in and I feel that by learning these things they will be much better prepared to enter the world when they are adults.

    As for one on one time, a good parent will make that time for each child whether she has 1 or 50. It’s not the quantity of time spent, it’s the quality. I despise schedules so I’ve never been one to schedule one on one time with my kids. Each one of my children has different needs and some require more time than others. Because of the close relationship I have with my kids…..all 8…..it’s easy for me to realize when one of them may need that one on one time and we work it out whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, or just sitting side by side watching a movie, etc. Yes there are times that I may be bathing a toddler or feeding an infant and can’t devote my whole attention to another child at the very moment they need it, but growing up in a large family has taught my children amazing patience and it’s rarely an issue.

    Anyway………..who are we to say how many children any one should have? When IS enough really enough? Is it 2? 5? 10? I personally feel 1 or 2 children isn’t enough but it’s not my place to tell that mother she should have more, just as it’s not my place to tell a mother she Shouldn’t have more. Children are a blessing, each and every one of them are, and to see people turn that into something negative just breaks my heart.

  22. 22.

    I think the Duggars have every right to have as many kids as they want. They have the love, the space and the money. They aren’t on gov’t assistance. So they have every right to have as many kids as God sees them fit to have.

    Also, from your post you are quite misinformed about the Duggars. TV ISN’T footing the bill for them. When asked by viewers about their income. They’ve repeatedly explained, that they have Commercial Rental Property, Individual Rental Property, A towing business, AND a used car lot, which allows them to stay at home to take care of their kids. Jim Bob’s mother Grandma Duggar also has rental properties that he helps her manage as well.

    The Duggar’s also don’t have a mortgage which helps them quite a bit they do have property taxes like any homeowner but built their own themselves. With TLC helping with the last stage of their home because they had weather setbacks and their lease on their rental house was up and they had to be out because the rental was going to be torn down shortly before after their lease was up

    As for Kate Gosselin, she had all her kids on a whim and didn’t plan for them like the Duggars did. The Duggars didn’t need and don’t need TV to foot their bills unlike Kate wants TV to do The Duggars have been on the same financial page since they had their 1st son Josh with their used car lot and have gained more investments along the way. Kate’s love of fame and refusal to take responsibility of her 8 kids and get a JOB is why she has no money. Its also obvious from many interviews that Kate and Jon have given that Jon resents Kate in some way for having their last 6 kids so they were never on the same page at all. Not to mention Kate’s a huge tyrant with a lot emotional issues she she needs to address

    Lastly, we only see a small portion of the Duggars on TV. They don’t raise their kids to be baby-sitters. At least 4 or 5 of their kids are over 18 are free to leave home at anytime. No one makes them stay at home. They are all well-rounded people unlike some of today’s spoiled brats on TV. They do a lot of charity work and have a strong work ethic. Just because they have strong family ties doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of being independent people. They also do take their kids out to do things individually as well.

  23. 23.

    I’m going to jump in with a different viewpoint. I personally know the Duggars, I was raised in the same program, and I disagree with them profoundly. See, this program does not let you as a young adult launch into your own life. It is designed not to. I have family members who still haven’t been able to make any life for themselves. The strong emphasis against higher education (since my time it has lessened in favor of ATI- run programs) makes it very difficult to transition into adulthood and adult responsibility.

    Why didn’t I choose differently for myself? Because I was taught wanting other options was wrong. Not so much by my parents, but immersion in the program had that effect. Why would I want to choose a lesser path? One that must be wrong, because everybody else chose it?

    I didn’t feel as much resentment as my few friends, because I only had a few younger brothers to help raise. But my friends whose mothers kept having babies well into their forties, were resentful. They had mothers who were perpetually exhausted and dependent on their oldest children to keep the house going and the children in line. Education suffered under those circumstances, with repercussions well into the adult lives of these kids.

    It is the only way this lifestyle can work. I believe the Duggar kids when they sound like they embrace their parents’ lifestyle. But I have seen for myself what happens down the road. They will find themselves unprepared for adult life. They will question everything. The values instilled them (they look so ‘together’ and well-behaved right now) may or may not hold up.

    This website expresses the views of some of those raised in ATI/IBLP circles: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2011/11/quiverfull-or-full-of-it/

  24. 24.

    I would never choose to have that many kids, but I’m certainly not scared of ‘overpopulating’ the earth. 🙂

    You mentioned that about consumption, yet you yourself just outlined all the highly consuming things you need to do in order to have another baby (the American standard). I tend to think differently, I think children are more important than a house to accommodate them, a daycare to care for them, and the latest toys to spoil them. I went on a missions trip to Russia, visited a family with 11 kids who lived in one room with a separate tiny kitchen the size of a closet. That really puts things in perspective! Not that I would want to live like that, or that this family was perfectly happy. But now I don’t feel like I have to spend 5 years ‘preparing for a baby’ so that we have a big house and strong finances. I’m perfectly comfortable with three or more kids in our small two bedroom town home because frankly, the American way of bigger and biggest is completely off from the rest of the world. I know I may regret not having more kids, but I’ll never regret not having a big enough house or not having dropped my kids of at daycare. If anything, I would regret not having spent enough time with them and putting too much focus on finances and material things.

  25. 25.

    The environmental/trash standpoint is moot. How much trash your family generates is a personal decision that is not necessarily increased due to more children. Check out thezerowastehome.com. It can be done for a family of 2 or 20 kids.

    I also disagree w/ the argument that they don’t spend enough time w/ their kids. Michelle Duggar stays home w/ her brood of 20 and homeschools them. That gives her at least 50 more hours in the week than your average working mom for mothering. The Duggars also do not seem to be making choices to spend “me time” outside the home or having “girls/boys nights out” and Jim Bob doesn’t seem to have a “man cave” in that huge house. There’s nothing wrong with those things but those are clear areas that the Duggars have sacrificed in favor of spending more time with their children.

    I don’t find them socially irresponsible in the slightest.

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