Why I Quit Hormonal Birth Control

Over two years have passed since I opened my last packet of pills and quit hormonal birth control.

Why I Quit Hormonal Birth Control | StephGaudreau.com

In this post, I’m going to share why I quit hormonal birth control, what happened afterward, and what I use instead.

But before I dive in, I need to heavily preface this post so I don’t get a shit-ton of hate mail.

This post isn’t meant to be a sociopolitical or religious conversation. It’s not a medical conversation either. I’m not a doctor – I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night – nor am I a medical professional of any kind. I’m not trying to make a statement about feminism or women’s rights, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do with your own reproductive health.

With that in mind…

If you told me a few years ago that I’d be blogging about my birth control, I probably would’ve squirmed a little bit in my seat. Fact is, in the side conversations I’ve had with friends or the email exchanges I’ve had with other women since I quit hormonal birth control, something’s become apparent:

It’s just not something that a lot of people are talking about, and women are curious to learn more.

The choice to quit hormonal birth control is a very personal one. I was at the place in my life where it made sense to seriously start questioning what I was doing and whether it was good for my health or not. As a 35-year old married woman in a stable and committed relationship, that was my reality, so I began asking around.

But let’s go back a ways first.

Let’s Just Say I Bloomed Early

Gag. I hate that term.

At 10 years old, my body went from chubby pre-teen to menstruating young woman overnight. My mom gave me a book about periods – probably because she noticed I wasn’t flat-chested anymore – and I read that a period would feel like a “low, itchy sensation.”

Well, when I was graced with menarche, it felt achy, not itchy. (Note to self: Get better at skimming.)

Not that being the first to get your period and braces is bad enough for a 5th grader, but every month I got sick. Really sick.

I hate to be graphic, but when I got my period, I’d spend the first 24 to 48 hours vomiting until bile came up. Going to school wasn’t an option, so I’d stay home and writhe in bed. After a while, mom realized this wasn’t normal, and so around age 12 – I think…my memory is a bit fuzzy – I got my first pelvic exam. Hooray!

The concern was that my cousin was dealing with a severe case of endometriosis and perhaps I had it, too. “Not to worry,” the lady doctor said, “you don’t have it. It’s just raging hormones, and you’ll outgrow it.” To be fair, I’m paraphrasing, but that was it. You’ll grow out of it.

Well, I really didn’t. And I always had a feeling something wasn’t right.

I remember calling mom to come pick me up from school once because my period started. I’d popped some Advil (knowing it wouldn’t do anything), and willed for her to get to me as fast as possible. We lived a half hour away, and I could feel myself going downhill. As she drove up, I hurled into the trash can in front of the school doors. I was 16.

At age 19, a college sophomore, I went on birth control pills.

And They “Worked”

Yep, hormonal birth control worked as promised.

I wasn’t getting as sick. I avoided pregnancy. I took my little blue pills each day like my doctor told me, and my period was very predictable.

So what was the problem?

At first, nothing.

(I did have a short break from hormonal birth control after my divorce, and when I was off them, I felt so much better, but I went back on them soon after.)

But then, at age 33, my gyno definitely diagnosed me with endometriosis after doing a tissue biopsy. FFS. As far as I know, my endo is mostly confined to my cervical area (the location of the biopsy), but I’ve never had a exploratory laparoscopy. To be clear, I don’t desire motherhood, and while some women reading this might be horrified that my fertility status could be affected by my endo, I’m not stressing about it because I don’t want children.

All those years, I knew something was wrong with me, and I was right. To say that I felt vindicated and confused all at the same time would have been accurate. But I was starting to pay more attention to my health – I went paleo two years prior to the diagnosis – and putting things in my body that were working better for me.

Around the same time, my birth control prescription had to be changed, and the hormones increased. I started to feel like crap, and the side effects began to pile up. Moodiness, weight gain, low energy. Despite feeling pretty good for the previous couple years, I knew this decline was due to the change in my pills.

In the summer of 2014, a full two years after my endo was discovered, I decided enough was enough.

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Considering My Options

I started considering what other options I really had because I wanted to quit hormonal birth control altogether.

To me, it was a natural evolution. I’d already been working on nourishing my body, getting stronger, sleeping better, and using fewer “chemical” products at home and on my body. Z and I were married, and I felt terrible despite the few different prescriptions I’d been switched to.

I’d also changed doctors – my old gyn wouldn’t allow an IUD because I was still “of reproductive age” even though he knew I didn’t want children – and the new one was willing to do a copper IUD. (Yes, I was fully aware of the risks.)

In fact, I felt really excited at the prospect of finally being off hormones (as pumped as a woman can be at the thought of having a little T-shaped piece of metal shoved up her hoo-ha)!

Well, despite the doctor proclaiming my uterus “measured perfectly” and going through with it, I was absolutely crushed when I went back for a checkup the following month and it had dislodged.

She asked me if I wanted to come back in another 4 weeks and try again. When I said no, she wrote me another prescription for birth control pills. I walked out, tore the slip up, and went on a mission to find a better way.

I decided to quit hormonal birth control because I was tired of the side effects, I knew there had to other ways to manage my fertility that worked with my lifestyle, and the risk factors just weren’t worth it anymore. Frankly, I was also really pissed at mainstream medicine for becoming a pill-and-hormone pushing machine, unwilling to help women manage underlying lifestyle factors.

I was really pissed at mainstream medicine for becoming a pill and hormone pushing machine, Click To Tweet

Creeping Around Other Women’s Social Media Profiles

Turns out, my research was short-lived. I remembered reading something Liz Wolfe posted about how to quit hormonal birth control, so I did what any normal human would do: I creeped her Facebook page for more info. (Liz and I are actually friends, so it’s not as weird as it sounds.)

When I found her Facebook post about it, I just bit the bullet and asked.

Why I Quit Hormonal Birth Control | StephGaudreau.com

Yep, that’s a screenshot of the actual message I sent her.

Liz was a great sport and filled me in. I’m so grateful for her because this still seems like something women don’t really talk about. Add to it the fact that many doctors – though not all – seem hell-bent on prescribing hormonal birth control as the contraception default, and it’s no wonder women are confused.

Side story: I now have yet another gyn, a lovely woman roughly my mother’s age. When I first met her, we had the following conversation:

Doctor P: What are you using for birth control?

Me: I track and chart my basal body temperature plus other signs of ovulation.

Doctor P: Isn’t that a lot of work?

Me: No. (Looking puzzled.) I lie in bed for a minute every morning and take my temperature.

Doctor P: Do you know you could still get pregnant?

Me: As you can with any other form of birth control. I follow the rules for avoiding pregnancy. I don’t want to take hormonal birth control.

Doctor P: Have you considered Mirena? (Mirena is a type of IUD with “low dose” hormones.)

Me: Mirena still has hormones. (And it has a higher risk of blood clots than many other forms of hormonal birth control. No thanks.)

Doctor P.: (changed the subject)

As much as I liked Doctor P, I absolutely loathed being treated like a dum-dum who didn’t know anything about my own fertility. And it galls me that women the world over are 1) being presented no other options besides barrier methods or hormones and 2) that hormonal birth control is being used to treat the symptoms of other bigger health issues. More about that later.

Enter: FAM

On that fateful July day two years ago, Liz told me about FAM (Fertility Awareness Method), and it’s changed my life and health for the better. I’ve been off hormonal birth control since then with great success.

What is FAM?

In a nutshell, FAM is a combination of approaches that allow a woman to track and chart when she is ovulating. By measuring basal body temperature (BBT) – recorded with a special thermometer – and tracking other signs like cervical fluid, cervical position, ovulation pain, PMS symptoms, etc., a woman can closely pinpoint ovulation. There are some basic rules about when to abstain from sex or use a back-up barrier method (if you don’t want to get pregnant) or when to have sex (if you do want to get pregnant).

Note: FAM is not the same as just assuming that women ovulate on day 14 of their menstrual cycle.

While 14 days is an average, it’s not absolute, and it may not apply to you during every cycle even if you do tend to ovulate at 14 days.

Case in point, last month I got tattooed on Day 12 of my cycle. Because of the physical stress, I actually ovulated 4 days later than normal. Had I assumed “everyone ovulates around 14 days” and had sex without a barrier, I could have gotten pregnant. Luckily I have tracked fertility signs for two+ straight years and knew that my ovulation was delayed. In the past, I’ve also ovulated late after a very long international flight and while I was sick with food poisoning.

How FAM Works

Like all other forms of birth control, there are detailed and specific rules for doing FAM. I used the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.

Every morning when I wake up – before getting out of bed – I lie there and take my temperature orally with a special basal body temperature thermometer. This takes a minute or so. (If a doctor tells you this is harder than taking a pill every day, gee, you might rethink your choice of providers. I did.)

Then, I log my temperature with a fertility tracking app. I use Fertility Friend because it’s the one I found two years ago. There are other ones without all the pink and purple flowers if you like your fertility tracking without the stereotypically girly motifs.

I also log other signs like cervical fluid changes, breast tenderness, etc.

If you’re sitting here thinking you could never do it because that’s “gross,” I have to say this: Having knowledge about how your body works is not gross. It’s empowering, and it’s your right. For too long, women have been prescribed hormonal birth control that allows us to be completely oblivious to what is happening in our bodies. Periods aren’t talked about. Or when they do, they’re often joked about or seen as taboo.

Have you ever completely freaked out because your period was late? I have. Tracking actually gives you the power to know if / when a late period could really be a pregnancy.

Have you ever panicked because you had vaginal discharge? I have. Turns out, discharge around the time of ovulation is normal. Tracking can help you know if that’s normal for the time of month or if you could have an infection.

Have you ever felt a sharp pain in your side around the middle of your cycle and thought you could be having an appendix problem? I have. That could actually be ovulation pain.

My point is that so many women are disconnected from what is normal in their bodies and what’s not. To me, FAM is a tool that allows me to be more in sync with what is happening from month to month.

So many women are disconnected from what is normal in their bodies and what's not. Click To Tweet

FAM is not perfect. If you don’t follow the rules, you can get pregnant. (I’ve seen estimates of 0.6% failure rates if followed exactly.) But I’d rather deal with that risk compared to the shitty things that hormonal birth control does to a woman’s body and how terrible it was making me feel.

After I Quit Hormonal Birth Control

Within two months after I quit hormonal birth control, I had normal cycles. Maybe I’m lucky? Maybe I had worked hard on improving my foundation of health prior to quitting and it paid off? I like to think it was more the latter. Everyone is different, and I acknowledge that 1) not every woman is an ideal candidate for FAM and 2) there are other non-hormonal methods besides FAM that work well for other women.

But I have to make this plea:

If you’re dealing with hormonal issues (PCOS, endometriosis, acne, irregular periods, amenorrhea, female athlete triad, etc.), hormonal birth control is often a band-aid that covers up the problem instead of heals it.

The pill and other hormonal birth control methods have so many downsides that women have come to, frankly, put up with because it’s often presented as our only viable option.

I used to think I needed hormonal birth control to make my skin better or make my periods less painful. Turns out, that was not true. I may get a pimple here or there, especially around my period, but my skin is great thanks to a nourishing, anti-inflammatory diet, good sleep, the right amount of exercise, and reducing my stress. I do take Advil on the first day of my period, but I don’t vomit anymore. My pain is very manageable. Yes, there was a transition period where I had a little more acne, for example, but that wasn’t enough to make me run back to the pill.

Note: Endometriosis is now gaining recognition as an inflammatory disease. That means that factors that ramp up inflammation in the body (ex: certain edibles like gluten, dairy, and sugar; poor gut health; environmental toxins; and more) can make endometriosis worse. When I consider my family health history, especially my maternal line, I see several autoimmune / inflammatory diseases present: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, gout, and endo to name a few. People may think paleo is a fad, but for me it’s meant a significant reduction in the amount of inflammatory foods I consume.

Please learn more before you just stop cold turkey.

Click here for a quick primer about how to quit hormonal birth control.

I highly recommend the following resources:

Not only are both women personal friends of mine, but their depth of knowledge and their passion for helping others improve their health is palpable. Go check out their work. There are far more downsides to hormonal birth control than what I listed here, especially when used to manage other hormonal / health problems. (Get Dr. Briden’s book to learn more.)

In the two years since I quit hormonal birth control, not only have I amassed a lot of data about my menstrual cycle, but I also feel like I’m far more in tune with my body than I’ve ever been.

For example:

  • I always know which day I’m going to get my period once my temperature drops back down.
  • I know that the week before I get my period is not the ideal time to lift really heavy (more about that in an upcoming post), and if I’m having an “off” day around my period, it’s normal.
  • It’s been far easier to build and maintain muscle mass now that I quit hormonal birth control.

Every woman’s transition of hormonal birth control is different, and my story might not reflect yours. However, staying on hormonal birth control just because coming off it was uncertain stopped jiving with me.

In Conclusion

Quitting hormonal birth control is one of the best things I’ve done for my health, but it may not be for everyone. Flashing back to age 19, FAM (fertility awareness method) probably wouldn’t have been the best choice.

FAM has pros and cons, like every method of pregnancy prevention, but for me the benefits far outweighed the downsides.

Talk to your doctor and educate yourself so you know what your choices are. Your self-advocacy can help make all the difference.

Hormonal birth control methods, though often used to “treat” other problems, are not cures. They are synthetic analogues to your body’s natural hormones and are not without risk. Repairing your hormonal imbalances can be achieved through work with a cooperating practitioner and lifestyle changes. Sometimes, traditional methods must be used when more natural treatments fail. It’s not a failing on your part, and it’s not necessarily wrong, but you should at least be aware of natural treatments before being pressured into surgery or other interventions. My goal here was to share my own story of finding another way.

We covered a lot of ground in this post, and I said a lot of adult words like vaginal, sex, and discharge that might make you squirm, but you stuck with it to the end.

I hope this post about why I quit hormonal birth control empowers you to consider your best options and make the best possible choice for your health.

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25 thoughts on “Why I Quit Hormonal Birth Control

  1. This is absolutely fascinating to me. Thank you so much for sharing your transition story and a bit about how it works!
    I was put on the pill when I was 12, right after being diagnosed with PCOS. I took the pill until about 3 years ago, when I switched to an IUD. Even though I use Mirena, my gyno initially cautioned me about it not providing enough hormones to “treat” PCOS. I stuck to my guns, and I’m happy with the IUD for now. I totally agree with you that it’s infuriating that hormonal birth control is used as a band-aid for other problems! I realize that my IUD still has low-dose hormones, but it works for me for now. Once my IUD needs to be replaced, though, I am curious about FAM….and I’m glad that there are bloggers willing to talk about their experiences with it – otherwise it just seems so daunting!

    1. Hey Steph,

      I wanted to cry while reading this lol. Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve gone through so much bullshit with doctors telling me my side effects are normal and completely disregarding my questions about an IUD or something non hormonal. It can be really discouraging and demeaning. I’m a 21 year old married college student who is not trying to get pregnant for some time and people act like I’m a joke when I’m just trying to be responsible, ha! I love that you wrote about this topic. Thank you ♡

    2. Hey Chelsea! I hear your struggles with PCOS but I want you to know that hormonal bc can make PCOS worse by causing insulin resistance. Definitely check out Dr. Briden’s site. She writes a lot about PCOS and sadly, many mainstream doctors don’t do a great job explaining the complications of hormonal bc for issues like PCOS, endometriosis, etc.

  2. Thank you for Addressing this topic. I have/had pcos and after years of birth control used invitro to get pregnant the first time. It seemed the only way doctors could help me get pregnant and it worked. I had twin boys. After their birth, I didn’t feel well when I was on the pill and figured I couldn’t get pregnant on my own anyways so I quit taking it, against doctors orders. Crazy that they told me this was the treatment for my pcos. I did a whole30 around the same time and have been 90 percent paleo ever since. Guess whose regular periods returned and who was able to get pregnant the good old fashioned way last summer? This girl!!! I listened to my guy and just tried to restore health with foods and it worked. I had a c section so my tubes are now tied but even if they weren’t, I would never go back on it and I am regularly encouraging others to consider it. As you said, It’s a very empowering feeling to know your body and to help it work properly.

    1. Hey Rachel! Believe it or not, your story is quite common 🙂 I’ve heard from so many women who have restored their fertility after addressing diet and lifestyle. I’m really glad you listened to your gut. Thanks so much for sharing your journey!

  3. I appreciate this discussion. Women definitely need to be talking about this with each other. The real issue you faced was the medical establishment not listening to you, and not having a complex understanding of the female reproductive cycle and differences between bodies that menstruate. I had a completely different experience, going on birth control pills around the age of 16 to control my own incredibly painful periods that had me vomiting for days etc. The pill gave me pain relief and peace of mind and when I went off of it 25 years later, I felt fine and had painless periods. I also got pregnant 4 years later (at age 45) while using an inferior form of birth control. I agree with your advice that everyone is different and the pill per se is not bad. Women need well informed doctors and to take good advice from those who respect women and their bodies. PS I am a proud feminist and that is why I am committed to women’s reproductive health and justice. This topic is always political.

    1. Hi Lianne…thanks for commenting! I guess what I meant is that my main focus for this post wasn’t politics though I definitely agree the issue is multilayered and is, for many women, sociopolitical, religious, medical, etc. Finding health care practitioners that do better and listen more keenly is something we are in dire need of. I politely disagree with the statement “the pill per se is not bad.” The synthetic hormones in the pill quietly (or not so quietly) wreak havoc on our bodies, disrupting gut health, lowering our already lower levels of testosterone, and more. While the pill can provide symptomatic relief, it’s not the wondrous panacea it’s touted as by many, and it doesn’t help women address the root cause of their health issues. Everyone is indeed different, but there needs to be more frank discussion about the realities of hormonal birth control.

      1. An incredible article, Steph!! I went off the pill more than a year ago, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made. You have inspired me to experiment with FAM — I think that this type of tracking will work well for me, as I’ve wanted to become more in tune with my body and its cues. Thank you so much for writing this.

  4. Thanks for writing about this. I started FAM a month after getting married because the Nuva ring, for as little hormonal injection as it is, resulted in my being lethargic, nauseus, and just not present. When I tell other women (I’m quite open about it) that I’m practicing natural birth control, 90% of the time I get the response, “I could never do that. I need to be in control.” But I’ve never felt MORE in control. I know my body better than I ever have. When hubs and I decided to try for kids, I knew exactly what to do and within 2 months of trying was pregnant with twins. Post-pregnancy I went back to FAM right away. Thankfully I have a dr who’s empowering and supportive of this (he even recommended the FAM training program that hubs and I took)… I wish more dr’s could get on board with that.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Kelly! Never have I felt more in control of and in tune with my body. I’m super glad to hear you have such great support from your doc. That makes all the difference!

  5. Glad you found a non-hormonal solution. While it’s not the main point of your post, I really resonated with your experience of having doctors downplay your symptoms as “normal.” There is a growing movement to look at the menstrual cycle as a vital sign for women. Changes or things that don’t feel right should NOT be ignored or downplayed.

    Also, I’m quite surprised that you were discouraged from using an IUD when you you were still in your fertile years (regardless of whether or not you planned to actually have children). I had a copper T (also because I wanted non-hormonal birth control) for about 5 years in my late 20s/early 30s and it was a great solution for me (though the insertion procedure was not fun, I must say). It is my understanding that studies have no shown there is no impact on post-removal fertility, and the risks of any other negative effects are very low.

    1. Absolutely! Dr. Briden who I linked to in the post did a beautiful talk about hormonal vitality and periods as an indicator of health status. I think some doctors are still very reluctant because the IUD has some risks that could interfere with future pregnancy if there’s a perforation. Had mine worked I think I would have been quite satisfied with it long-term…I know a lot of women who are. <3

  6. Thanks for putting yourself out there, Steph. I also found the Taking Charge of Your Fertility book very helpful. Despite being a healthy weight, eating healthfully and exercising, I’m still struggling to get pregnant with PCOS, so I don’t think that lifestyle factors solve hormonal issues for everyone, unfortunately. I did want to chime in with the best app I’ve found for tracking, Ovia Fertility. Thanks again for the post.

    1. Hi Christine…lifestyle factors are definitely not a guaranteed fix, that’s quite true. Have you worked with a practitioner who can help you get to the root of the PCOS issue? There could be some lingering stuff that’s hard to see.

      I’ll definitely check out that app…sounds awesome!

  7. As the founder of BIRTHFIT, I wish more women would get off the pill years before TRYING to conceive. The pill industry is almost as bad as the vaccine industry. There is a great new documentary coming out called Sweeting The Pill.

  8. I relate so much to this – the awful cramping that kept me out of school, the flip-flopping between different kinds of pills, which ended up in me having low energy, no sex drive, and awful mood swings. I’m on Mirena now (my gyno suggested copper initially but I did NOT want the heavier bleeding than I already had plus more cramps) it’s been great so far. I don’t want kids, and after doing a TON of research (including talking a lot with friends who have both copper and hormonal IUDs) I chose Mirena, since I didn’t trust myself to track ovulation and I don’t expect my boyfriend to get a vasectomy. I wish more women had the gyno I have, he literally talked me through EVERY option. The only thing that really sucked is that after the insertion I had miserable cramps for a couple days (which is normal, but sobbing and writhing on the couch really sucked nonetheless). I still get cramps here and there but my energy is fine, my strength is fine, my mood is fine, and my periods are lighter.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I’m not sure where you’re at in your life, but even if you don’t want to rely on tracking, I think it’s incredibly fascinating and a way to get in touch with your body. Most women who track and also use other forms of birth control find it’s very empowering to know their own cycle better. It’s so easy to do, I know you can do it.

      Mirena is definitely a lower dose of hormones than some other bc methods, just remember that levonorgestrel, the active ingredient in Mirena, is a synthetic hormone. You can read more about it here: http://www.larabriden.com/pros-cons-mirena-iud-natural-health/ 🙂

  9. Hi Steph, great article! I currently use the Mirena IUD. I like it because I do not have periods and that works very well for my lifestyle and line of work (I’m in the woods all the time). However, I don’t like the low dose of progesterone and some of the minor side effects. I’m not ready to try FAM but am interested in trying the Copper IUD. I haven’t been able to find much information in the Paleo/NTP world that discusses the side effects and the possible pros/cons to it. Could you steer me in the right direction for more research and/or explain your thoughts on the Copper IUD? Thank you!

  10. Hi, this is a very intersting article. I have been “blessed” with my period around 10 years also and i hated it every single month..i was on the pill from 17 to 25 with some time off and the result was a havoc on my liver.. So bad, o thought it was hepatitis 🙁 I’m married now and we don’t use but the old fashion way, coitus interruptus, with no accidents ever. FAM is better, but this is ok for us. Even like this, not really wanting to follow my body’s cues, I became aware of everyday changes in discharge and i know when i’m ovulating. It hurts when ovulating, not when I get my period now. It’s a shame that not every mother talks to her daughter about options because the dr always puts you on the pill and then you gain weight (not really nice when you’re still in highschool and pretty unsure about yourself anyway..) and your mood changes a lot. This is an empowering topic for women and it should be discussed openly.

  11. Thanks for writing about this Steph! I’m so happy you have found a natural method that works well for you. As a Catholic, my husband and I were introduced to Natural Family Planning during our pre-marital prep. The method we use sounds similar to yours, without the temperature check.
    I was on the pill through college and for a few years after. I never had any (known, obvious) side effects on it or when I quit. I will say, however, that in the years since college (2003 grad) I have been on an autoimmune (thyroid, psoriasis), whole health research and healing journey. A very slow journey because I didn’t really care too much about the more natural methods until about 2012. Anywayyyy, I think that methods such as our Creighton Model (http://www.creightonmodel.com/index.html) method, FAM, etc. should be taught in middle and high school health classes. It astounds and saddens me how many young women are put on the pill to “fix” something that it’s never gonna fix. Often at ages 12 and 15, then staying on the oil for another 15 years. Like you said, it’s a band aid. Knowing your own body’s bio markers can help discover so much more and thus giving you the info to research and truly FIX your root cause, not just make your cramps go away a or your period predictable. Sorry for the book. ? All this to say thanks for starting a conversation about this.

  12. Just came across this post. Great info Steph! Thanks for sharing. I have to say as I think about my daughter navigating this soon I so wish she could avoid the wreaking of havoc that we’ve all been through with pills.
    Agreed that it’s not until you’re off all that that you finally get to know your body. In your 30s! (For me). I didn’t even have regular periods till early 30s when I went Paleo.

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