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Surprises, Being Wrong and Discovering a Name (Birth Story, Part 2)

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I sure made you wait a long time for part 2!

I would say it’s appropriate because I had to wait to meet this baby, but he was only (barely) a day overdue, so that would be quite the exaggeration.

Life (and editorial calendars) march on…but now I’m back!

Be sure to start with part one of Gabriel’s birth story HERE if you haven’t read it. You’ll see that I decided to write to him as a love letter of sorts, even though when he’s all grown up as a man, he probably won’t care about these things.

Likely he wouldn’t care about his baby book, either, which is good since he won’t have much of one!

So here we go, picking up where we left off…I was in the birthing tub, smacking the side with strong contractions and praising God the older kids weren’t trying to sleep in their beds…and I’m backtracking just a smidge because I forgot where precisely I ended part one and wanted to extrapolate a bit…

One of the parts about a hospital birth that I just abhor is the monitoring. When a woman arrives in labor, she has to lie down and be still for 20 minutes with a monitor wrapped around her belly to get a “baseline” reading on contractions, heart rates, and who knows what else. I’ve only had to endure it once due to the speed of babies two and three, but it was excruciating for someone who only likes to labor standing and walking.

The monitor comes back intermittently throughout labor and seemed to be a constant near the end since safety can be touch and go at that point.

In a home birth, the midwives usually have a Doppler machine, the same little thing docs use to listen to the heartrate at prenatal checkups. It’s just a little wand attached to a cord and walkie talkie shaped monitor, like this:

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That would be my 6-year-old daughter helping listen to baby’s heart tones at a prenatal – a cool benefit of having a midwife visit the home. You can see the Doppler machine in her hand.

When that unobtrusive little thing intruded into my space in the water tub during a contraction, however, I came the closest to biting someone’s head off as I would come during labor. It was all I could do not to yell at the assistant, “Get that #%*! thing out of here!” I’m not really sure what I did say, but it was something more like, “Ugh, get it away…please?”

Or it might have been in the middle of those…the midwife had said she knew it wasn’t too bad once I was in the tub because I wasn’t yelling at my husband, apparently a litmus test for intensity of contractions. ? I try not to be the yelling type in general, so I may have simply been using (the last of) my self-control.

The First Sight

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(all professional photos are from Amanda Brown Studios.)

Leslie knew about my wish to see you, remember you, and hold you right away – one of the questions I had emailed her about when I realized I had only visualized the homebirth/waterbirth process up until the moment of birth was about how, practically, you would get in my arms without getting the cord wrapped around my legs if I had given birth on hands and knees. I couldn’t figure out how that would work.

She said that you would be passed through my legs to me and then they’d help me flip over and sit. Sounded easy enough…

In my mental imaging before labor even started, I had that process locked in my brain – that the first time I saw you would be in the water, looking down at your face looking up at me, and then I could grab hold of you and bring you up out of the water in front of me on my knees, then turn around with help and sit down, leaning against the side of the pool with you cozy on my chest.

Isn’t that a nice image?

I was incredibly intrigued by the water part of the birth, having never experienced that before. Leslie told us about how baby’s first cry works – when born into water, the baby doesn’t really realize s/he is “out” yet. The reflex that causes baby to cry happens when air hits the face, the cheeks specifically. Hearing her describe how a newborn could stay under the water for 30 seconds and just be peaceful before having to come up and truly enter the world was like a dream sequence for me.

I couldn’t wait to see it for myself, and I even fancied that, if things weren’t too crazy, Leslie’s assistant Kate might be able to capture that exact moment, your face under the water, with a photo. As with most tales involving babies and bodies, the plan was not to come to fruition.

To See or Not to See

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This is the tub in our bedroom before everything went down. I just found this photo from my husband’s phone, which he shot while filling up the tub.

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And although it doesn’t fit at all in this part of the story but should have been in part one, I have to share this picture he snapped of me, in labor, typing on Facebook at 7:38 p.m. – and Gabe was born at 9:05. Ha! We live in such a technological age…

I think the first hiccup in the plan was perhaps a bit of misinterpretation on Leslie’s part. When I emphasized how much I wanted to remember seeing you for the first time, I think she assumed I also meant I wanted to catch you as part of the birth process.

Many women do. I didn’t.

Call me crazy, but I really just wanted to play the role of pitcher, not catcher too. That was a bit too much multitasking for that particular moment. I just wanted the new baby, you, to be handed to me right away, and I was determined to lock that moment in my mind forever like a photograph, even if there wasn’t a real one taken.

With the pain of labor, the mental stress of pushing and at the same time willing my body not to tear, the general overwhelming incredibility that a new life was about to come into the world, and the tiny niggling prayer that everything go smoothly and not need medical intervention since we had chosen to eschew the hospital, I had plenty to juggle. It does make it hard to remember the events, and I continue to replay them in my head so I don’t forget as each passing day threatens to cloud my memory in spite of my best intentions.

What really happened was not a pristine image of your watery face looking up at me.

And now that I’ve strived to remember everything, I think I know why God gives women a “forgetful hormone.” He has good reasons! But I will say that already, I know I remember less of, or feel less engaged with, the events of the evening.

Baby in monkey hat

What I do remember is only slightly disjointed. I know I went from, “There’s no way I can handle these contractions for very much longer, this baby better come soon…” to pushing rather quickly (thanks be to God).

I know I didn’t focus on pushing, which is a huge difference from big brother Paul, baby number one, for whom I did all sorts of chin-down counting and truly hard work pushing, and the other two, which I don’t remember at all.

For you, it was more like just getting through it – I do my utmost to relax my abdomen for each contraction so it can be as effective as possible, which means my labor modus operandi is to get out of the way. I continued that all the way to the end.

When things were really intense, I remember saying (or thinking? I’ll have to ask Daddy), “I just need a break. I’m so tired…I just want a rest in between…”

I was a little psychologically down on myself for feeling so weak! I thought I should be holding up better since, geez, I’d only been in labor for an hour or so. Wimp!

I had a bit of back labor, reminiscent of big brother Paul’s labor, so I worried that it might be a longer process depending on the orientation of your head and body. Back labor is also more painful, but your dad was wonderful, applying counterpressure on my lower back for every contraction, even once I was in the tub. He was leaning over the edge near my shoulders and pushing on my lower back each time I needed it.

When the actual pushing contractions came, I wasn’t even sure if I could tell them for what they were. On my end, they weren’t a lot different than the others before it except that my body was doing more down below. I was still doing more “getting out of the way” than participating.

The moment of entry was a bit chaotic, despite my wish for a calm and peaceful birth at home. My friend who rolled her eyes when I spoke that out loud weeks before your birth would prove to be right.

I remember the feeling of what I assume was the water breaking, a massive whoosh into the water of the tub. I figured everyone could see that happening, but Daddy told me later that he had no idea. It was only minutes after that (I think?) before you were actually born.

I remember people having to ask me multiple times to lower my hips so that they would be completely submerged in the water. Listening wasn’t high on my priority list, apparently.

I remember that it was definitely fast, again.

And I remember some commotion. But no little face.

Tell Me Again?

Perfect lips

The words flying around, in Leslie’s voice, were something like, “Katie! Katie! He’s right here, touch his head…”

and

“Katie! He’s out now, here he is, grab him!”

Just like parenting my own children, she had to say everything multiple times because I was in my own world.

The whole time, I’m thinking vaguely  “Why is everyone yelling? I can’t figure out how to get my hands down there to touch his head (when he was crowning) and don’t want to…’grabbing’ him is not my job. When is someone going to hand him to me between my legs?”

There are probably more exclamation points and chaos even on my thoughts, but hey. Poetic license.

I knew you were out, born, whatever – that part is hard to miss when an entire human being comes through a hole the size of a baseball in your body – but I had no clue where to find you. I might as well have been in a labyrinth with a baby crying at the center (who remembers that movie?).

Finally, someone did what I wanted them to do in the first place and brought you in front of my face. That was language I understood!

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t through my legs, and you definitely weren’t underwater anymore, which is probably just as well because the water filled immediately with blood, not unlike a scene in the Jaws movie according to Daddy.

That may have been too traumatic an image to retain in my memory for all time.

Instead, here is my first sight of you, my little one:

A small, bluish being with a very oblong head, looking as much alien as human, rising up out of the water, screaming his head off.

You weren’t all that beautiful, dearest Gabriel, but you were mine. And I’ll remember that moment forever, baby book or not.

But you didn’t officially have your name yet, as it turns out.

EDIT: Apparently my whole “first sight” thing was clouded not by miscommunication, but by my own distraction with the whole labor and delivery thing. Leslie read my story and she and my husband both corrected me: she DID pass Gabriel between my legs and was  holding him right in front of my face telling me to look at him and I was totally oblivious. Whoops!!!

Discovering The Name You Already Had

Sweet baby

Last fall and into the winter, Daddy and I began to make a conscious effort to pray for joy in our family.

We felt we had hit a nasty rut of child sass, parent dictating, and general crankiness in our home.

We wanted to raise children who could handle minor disappointments with ease, who looked at the positive and who lived life with joy. We knew we had to model that for them and worried that in the day-to-day drudgery of life we may have fallen down on the job.

We wanted to do less parenting with, “Don’t do that!” and “No, you can’t,” and more teaching and discipling with cooperation and obedience. We wanted each day (or at least some of the days) to be infused with laughter and end with a calm, positive family prayer time rather than exhaustion and mental fatigue seeping into our rote words.

We didn’t expect God’s answer to be a new baby brother.

But here you are.

Daddy and I struggle choosing names for our children. It’s such a permanent, major decision, and it’s a long process every time. (It’s why we find out gender at this point, to be honest, so we cut our work in half.)

We both decided that for this Kimball number four, we wanted to consider some names that were derivatives of joy. There aren’t many male names that actually mean “joy,” however, so we had to get creative.

One night as I was laying in bed, likely in the wee hours of the morning after working far too long, waiting for exhaustion to finally overtake me, I was thinking about your name and talking to God, asking Him what He had in mind for you.

To my surprise, the story of the angel Gabriel came to mind, his annunciation of the baby Jesus to Mary and his “glad tidings of great joy” to the shepherds on that first Christmas.

Gabriel. Bringer of joy.

Like your sister Leah, it wasn’t a name I would have come up with on my own. I wasn’t even sure I liked it, but I brought it up to Daddy the next day.

I don’t remember if “Thomas,” the doubter, also came to mind during that same midnight prayer, but it wasn’t long afterward that I thought it would be appropriate – Gabriel to remind us of the answer to our prayer for joy, and Thomas to remind us how quickly we doubted God’s plan.

Although it seems clear looking back that God was telling me your name, the one He had chosen for you before Adam’s first breath, we continued to explore other options. My dear friend brought up a few more stories from the Old Testament that highlighted joy:

  • David, who wrote the Psalms including many songs of great joy and who was known to dance with abandon before the tabernacle
  • Benjamin, the 12th and youngest son of Jacob, father of all the Jews, who was said to “bring joy to his father”

When we looked up the meaning of the names, we learned that David means “beloved” and one source stated “friend,” which was pretty neat because in the Old Testament, David’s best friend was Jonathan, just like your closest sibling (with whom we fully expect you to be thick friends, likely creating chaos in your wake as two little boys running the household!).

Benjamin means “son of the right hand” or “son of the south,” which, although rich with history, are not all that inspiring.

Those remained our top three, first and middle names being some mix of David, Benjamin, Gabriel (and Thomas). We’ve always been able to choose a name for our babies when they were still in the womb and called them by name from that point. We loved the witness to life that demonstrates and felt it helped older siblings connect with the new baby as early as possible.

As September began to pass us by and every “what is his name?” conversation ended without an answer, we began to wonder if we would really end up waiting until we met the baby. We’d never waited so long before; it’s totally not our style! I didn’t think we could handle not knowing your name before you were born, but we turned the calendar to October and the days began to fly by while your name remained up in the air…which is probably why John still called you “New Baby” 75% of the time for the first month after your birth. Smile

Honestly, Daddy wasn’t really a fan of the name Gabriel. In spite of its uber masculine meaning, “strong man of God,” and the terrifying image of the angel Gabriel with lightning for eyes, he feared it might sound too feminine.

He didn’t advocate for any particular name, but he couldn’t commit to Gabriel.

I had an inner sense that God had chosen the name Gabriel Thomas even though I was more personally drawn to Benjamin, simply because I liked the name.

Benjamin (“Ben”) was possibly my front runner until just a few weeks before your due date when a tragedy struck a teacher in our community. She taught in another school nearby, and the whole school district was asked to help support the family when Baby Benjamin needed a bone marrow transplant to survive a fatal liver condition that he was born with in August.

Our family faithfully prayed for Baby Benjamin and his family every night for a week, and my kids joyfully brought a dollar for “hat day” to raise money for the bone marrow registry the day a donor drive was held at the teacher’s school.

That same morning, all the parents received an email from the superintendent with the devastating news that Baby Benjamin had passed away the night before, peacefully, in his mother’s arms.

I had no idea how I was going to tell my kids.

That night during prayer when my 6-year-old Leah, with her sensitive little heart, prayed once again for Baby Benjamin, I had to explain what had happened and try to hold their childlike, fragile faith intact so that they didn’t feel like God had not answered their fervent prayers for his recovery.

Leah sobbed and sobbed, her little heart torn in two, not able to understand, as we adults barely can grasp such grave events, how someone so tiny can have his breath snuffed out, how God’s plan can and does include bringing good out of tragedy.

My 9-year-old was also deeply affected in his own way, and it was a difficult evening.

Our prayers in subsequent days turned toward asking for peace for his parents, praying for Baby Benjamin’s soul and asking his prayers for us from Heaven, and keeping others who need bone marrow transplants in God’s mind.

I made sure that I signed up to be a bone marrow donor online – the drive, which still took place complete with a visit from the newly grieving parents, a true act of heroism on their part, signed up hundreds of new donors, the largest drive this area has ever seen.

I asked the children to help me take the saliva swabs for my own registry and send the kit in, and I emphasized how much good Benjamin’s little life was already causing, how many other people he might save and the opportunity for so many in our community to serve selflessly.

At the same time, our 3-year-old somehow latched onto the intention for Baby Benjamin and kept it going for weeks, even after the big kids had forgotten to include it in their own litanies.

Nightly he would ask, “Who was the baby that died?”

Baby Benjamin, we’d answer.

“Oh, Baby Benjamin, I wanted to hold him but he died!” he would say in a mock-sad tone, a mimicry of how Leah used to pray when Benjamin was ill: “I want to hold him!” He didn’t understand what was going on at all, but I know God hears his prayers.

I heard, too, every night, and as much as I loved the name Benjamin, I just couldn’t use it so close to this community tragedy.

So our name conversations continued to stagnate, and we had to just let the topic sit and simmer throughout October.

It’s really unlike me to not plan ahead and to leave unfinished business hanging. I always bring up “to do list” items over and over until they’re completed, but I knew God had to do the work this time. I continued to have the feeling that Gabriel Thomas was your name, your name given by God, and like in labor, I just wanted to get out of the way.

I didn’t want to press Daddy or make him feel that he should choose a name because I was pushing for it. I wanted it to be God’s name for you, and I knew it would happen with or without me.

The week before you were born, Daddy started saying, “You know, I really think God might have Gabriel in mind for the name…”

We continued to ask God in prayer what name He had in mind for you, and we really did end up leaving the final decision, the set-in-stone now-or-never choice, for the moment we met you in person.

When we finally saw your face, that precious and chaotic moment when you came up out of the blessed, bloody water, joining the world of man after the true miracle of birth, Daddy immediately said, “Gabriel,” like an Old Testament patriarch naming his son.

I’ll never forget how right that felt, dearest Gabe, even though some days, six weeks later, I say your name and am still surprised that we have a Gabriel in our house.

The Disappointment

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Your name was a bright shining moment, but the marathon Mommy had to run wasn’t over yet. (Ok, I know, quick labor – it’s probably only fair to liken what I did to a 10K, or maybe even a quick 5K. Marathon just sounds more impressive, no?) Winking smile

It was not easy figuring out how to hold your slippery little body while still on my knees. I wanted nothing more than to lay down on the edge of the tub and sleep, water and all. And it wasn’t even past my bedtime.

Through some sort of Herculean effort that may have taken a dozen helpers and a construction crane, we managed to get both me and you turned over so I could sit down in the tub and lean back on the side.

And then I immediately realized I did not win the battle against tearing despite our best efforts through warm water and positioning.

It hurt, really tangible, targeted pain right where I was sitting. I let everyone know, and I was as much emotionally dejected as I was physically in pain.

I don’t remember being able to feel the perineal pain with other births, perhaps because I was laying down on a bed instead of trying to sit, perhaps because I have allowed the forgetful hormones to do their erasure deed over the years, and perhaps someday this written word will be the only record of your birth as well.

But I knew I had damage and worried about recovery and how it would be repaired…

(Read more on tearing and stitches in this post on postpartum healing packs and coming in the pro/con homebirth breakdown.)

Your Personality Begins

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In the weeks before your birth, I published a few lists of standard medical procedures we generally opt out of. They were mostly copied and updated from some posts I wrote three years ago before John was born, which have now disappeared from the Internet because the site I wrote them for shut its doors, and I decided it would be good to get the information out there again.

I edited them and updated a bit, but I didn’t do any additional research, and I left a line in this one that was really what our Bradley birth classes spouted, not what real experience had proven:

I would rather embrace the pain of labor, which is completely over the second the baby is born…

A few commenters reminded me that I was totally wrong. For most women, there’s still plenty to do (and feel) after the baby is born.

Dealing with tearing is just one part of the story – having to deliver the placenta is something most first-time moms don’t even see coming, and the “after-birth pains” of the uterus working to contract back to its normal size can be nearly as bad as mid-to-upper level labor contractions. Those generally get worse with each baby, a fact that I had completely forgotten about until I reread my own post on natural remedies for postpartum pain a few days before you were due.

I read my own description of the after-birth pains with my jaw scraping the keyboard, like, “Really?? Oh no! That sucks…I totally forgot about all that!” And it was really too late to order any of the remedies others recommended after I didn’t do so well with the pains for baby three. Gah.

So I was pretty nervous about the after-birth procedures. I delivered the placenta on a birthing stool the midwives brought, fairly painless (yay!) but soooo difficult to get out of the tub and move in general. I just wanted to lie down!

I managed to traverse all four feet to the bed and climb on it. You were delivered to me after Daddy had a chance to snuggle you and warm you up (and take a few pictures, as evidenced by the one of you in the towel, above).

We tried to get nursing as soon as possible, and lo and behold, you had no interest. Zero.

I have a long history of nursing – about seven years total – and dude, I know what I’m doing. Tickle, tickle, open wide, line it up, bam! Cross cradle hold and a few pillows and we should have been off to the races.

But you wouldn’t have anything to do with me.

You fussed, cried a little (maybe a lot?) and totally stressed me out. (Are you going to continue that stubborn streak, my dear? Just tell me now…)

I didn’t expect perfection – you were only 20 minutes old, after all, I didn’t want to set the bar too high – but you come from a family of nursing addicts, more or less, so this “I don’t want to nurse,” was an odd reaction to being born.

You have continued to surprise us, being the first Kimball baby to (1) like diaper changes – a lot, (2) refuse to nurse when things are wrong, like a wet diaper, (3) only poop every few days, which still freaks me out a little bit.

I call you my noncommital nurser, because even when you’re very hungry, more often than not you’ll take half a minute to decide you actually want to bother opening your mouth and another 3-5 attempts to commit to latching on. It’s like, “Maybe I’ll nurse…eh, not right now…ok, maybe we could have a little snack…but no, I’m not really ready yet…” and so on.

I’m having to do more mental gymnastics than I expected to figure you out, which is probably a good thing for this old brain. Like crossword puzzles for the elderly, you keep my brain engaged. Winking smile

Nursing

For the first hour after your birth, you were with me. I was dreadfully uncomfortable in a flat bed and could have used about ten more pillows to prop the pair of us up. Perhaps you sensed that?

Either way, I don’t think you nursed for the entire hour. Grandma Kimball’s reply text to Daddy’s birth announcement begged for your birthweight, but we couldn’t give it to her because Leslie said colostrum is strongest in the first hour and she always wait until then to take baby away from mom for the weighing and checkup.

Apparently you weren’t listening.

After we called the grandparents on my side to share the good news, you finally were weighed, measured, and stamped your feet (in Spartan green, oh yeah!) and I got to get cleaned up a bit too. Eight pounds even, nineteen and a half inches – exactly the weight but two inches shorter than your oldest brother, the string bean.

It’s all falling action from there, ending after the midwives left around 11:30 p.m., with Daddy and I, holding you, in bed, all alone.

mom and dad and Gabe

We looked at each other and said, eyes wide, “This is real. There’s nobody here but us. I guess we better figure out what we’re doing!”

Even baby no. four inspired a tiny bit of panic in our chests, knowing that we were on our own with you.

Here’s a post I shared on the pros and cons of having a homebirth, including this “uh oh” feeling. 🙂

Meeting the Family

The action picks up again the following morning when Paul came to meet you before school (he didn’t dare to be late, even though we told him he could):

Paul bonding with Gabe

Then Leah and John finally arrived with Grandma around 10, Leah bouncing in, giddy as a kid in a candy store to hold her new brother:

Leah overjoyed to hold baby brother
John holds baby brother

A Life of Prayer

Daddy’s app counted a total of 43 contractions, which he announced to me when I was still close enough to the pain to think that that sounded like plenty, although I’m sure some women would give their left arm to have so few.

43.

If we want to get symbolic about it, we could say it’s the number of days Christ spent praying and fasting in the desert plus the days in the tomb, all times of suffering and sacrifice.

And if we want to be realistic…he stopped tracking them before I got into the pool, and he missed most of the ones in the kitchen, so forget 43 – there were WAY more than that.

At least one for each of the intentions I was offering up.

I’m very glad that even in your birth, you were already connected to the mystical Body of Christ, making an impact on the world in faith.

Gabriel Thomas.

The bringer of joy covering the doubter with God’s love.

You have been planned from the beginning. You do bring joy to our family, and we pour out our love to you in hopes that we share even a glimmer of the love God has for all of us.

May you always be faithful, and may we be an example of faith, love, and joy for you.

Kids with Gabe
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

10 thoughts on “Surprises, Being Wrong and Discovering a Name (Birth Story, Part 2)”

  1. Melissa Trotter

    Katie, I gave birth to baby number 6, Zachary Boaz, about 2 1/2 weeks ago and he was not interested in nursing for well over two hours after birth, very unlike his previous 5 siblings. It had me concerned for quite a while! He continued to be slow until my milk came in and then he decided he really liked it and now nurses like a champ! All 6 of our babies were homebirths, too. No waterbirths – I could never stand the thought of bloody water…

  2. Yay, baby!

    I have never felt the pain of a perineal tear for some time after labor …. each time I’ve had to ask the midwife or doctor, including the very severe tear I had. Didn’t know till they were stitching it!

    I think that along with the forgetfulness hormone, there’s also a memory hormone — the one that makes that first moment after the birth stick so hard in your mind. Maybe that’s why before long you can’t remember what came before!

  3. Congratulations, and thank you for sharing the birth story.

    Your reference to Leah’s not having a name you would have come up with on your own makes me wonder about how her name came to be chosen.

  4. My second was not interested in nursing like my first who was practically permentently attached for the first year of her life. He did not nurse for comfort at first and it totally threw me for a loop because nursing had been my answer for everything! However, he is almost two and we are still nursing more for comfort than food…I feel like I had to convince him it was enjoyable, lol.

  5. Love your story and your writing style. What a beautiful smile he has–he is a bringer of joy. Not only for you, but for us, your readers! Thank you for sharing, on behalf of those who are involuntarily finished with childbearing!

  6. Susan Alexander

    Love it, congrats. And of course it makes me remember my own most recent birth of my fourth (who is 15 months now – how did that happen?!) I too tore again. Hate it. :/ but otherwise my fourth was in all regards my most amazing birth. 🙂

  7. Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    Ah! I’m such a birth story cryer! What a beautiful story for your Gabriel.

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