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The Secret World of Reborners

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The women who make and collect reborn dolls share the secrets of their obsession.


This month, cops in Australia broke into a car, attempting to rescue what they thought was an unconscious infant in the back seat. But the "infant" was not a baby in distress -- it was a reborn.

What's a reborn, you ask? Reborns are amazingly lifelike dolls that look so much like newborn babies, it's downright eerie. The dolls can cost anywhere from $500 to $1500, and are particularly popular among female collectors. Last year, the dolls were thrust into the spotlight when the BBC released a documentary called My Fake Baby, following the life of a woman who treated her reborn as an actualnewborn -- dressing, bathing, and integrating the doll into her daily routine.

The artists behind the creation of the dolls, known as "reborners," are painfully aware how their "babies" are judged outside of the close-knit reborner community. The British department store, Harrods, famous for stocking anything and everything, refuses to include the dolls in their inventory because they are "too lifelike." But who needs Harrods, when there are 50-plus pages on eBay dedicated to reborns alone?

There are many things that make reborns so much more unsettlingly real than your average baby doll. Reborner Tammy Sharpe -- a mother of two grown children who teaches classes in crafting the expensive dolls -- says the first big difference is a reborn's weight. "Reborn dolls are weighted just like a real a newborn," she explains. "And customers can even choose the weight of their choice."

Other differences include heat packs for a realistic warm baby sensation, fat packs that replicate squishy "baby fat," mohair or human hair rooted strand by strand, and the special paints and color wash applied inside and out to give the appearance of translucent baby skin tones -- complete with veins, blotching, and "milk-spots."

Some tricked-out reborns even have magnetically attached "umbilical cords" or battery-powered heartbeat simulators. And did we mention the floppy neck? "In order to hold a reborn doll correctly, you must hold up their head, just like a real baby," says Dana-Lynn Mauldin, a 37-year-old mother of two who's been a reborner for 10 years.

Dana-Lynn and Jason Brady.JPG

When Dana-Lynn heard about the reborn rescued from the car in Australia, she wasn't really surprised. Dana-Lynn, who has over 100 reborns in her personal collection, says she always takes precautions before leaving a reborn in her car. "I put a note on the car seat, just in case," she says.

Although Dana-Lynn says the majority of customers do not treat their dolls as if they are surrogate children, she admits to taking her dolls to Wal-Mart now and then to buy baby clothes. On one trip, she was scolded for not appropriately bundling up her doll by another shopper. "An angry woman yelled that my baby should be wearing socks on such a cold day!" Dana-Lynn recalls with a chuckle.

Back on the homefront, Dana-Lynn often shares a snuggle with a new doll she's made: "I'll hold them in the evening when we're watching TV," she confesses. "It feels real, and there's nothing like holding a real baby." But after that, she says her dolls usually end up displayed in a Moses basket or in a crib in her fully-equipped nursery.

Not everyone is so accepting of reborns. When Lin Scanlon, a reborn designer and collector from England, wanted her first reborn, her husband wasn't so sure. "He said, 'You're a bit too old for dolls,'" she recalls. But with a little coaxing, she changed his mind, and now she sells her reborn creations on eBay. What's her strangest customer request to date? "A lady had just had preemie twins, so she sent me a photograph of them with tubes up their noses," Lin recalls. "She wanted me to make a doll like that, but I had to say no. I would rather see a baby who looks alive than a baby who looks ill." But Lin says there are other doll makers who will gladly fulfill such unusual requests. "Some will even buy the incubator cribs to put the babies in," she adds.

Reborns allow women to experience the joys of motherhood without ever changing a diaper or hearing that piercing, incessant 3:00 a.m. wail. Sure, some reborn collectors are women with broken hearts -- mothers of babies who tragically died or were stillborn. For them, the reborns are therapeutic, almost magical in their healing powers. But all of the reborners we spoke with said that for most collectors, reborns are simply a harmless hobby that allow them to be girls again, playing dress up with their beautiful dolls. "Reborns are fairy-tale babies," Lin concludes. "These dolls never grow up."

Click here to visit Lin's doll website.
Click here to visit Tammy's doll website.


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23 comments so far | Post a comment now
April July 28, 2008, 11:17 AM

Wow that is fascinating - what a weird niche.

anonymous July 28, 2008, 11:21 AM

it’s too eerie. they look like dead children.

Terese July 28, 2008, 1:07 PM

These women seem very confused and wanna have their cake and eat it too: they spend thousands of dollars to have a “realistic” baby with the right texture of hair, skin…and even a “heart beat,” BUT then they treat it like a toy by leaving it in the car…would they do that to a REAL baby? Why not just buy a regular $20 doll if that’s what you’re going to do?

To collect dolls is one thing, but to treat it like an actual child (when and where you want to)…it’s just strange all the way around.

shanna July 28, 2008, 1:34 PM

I had no idea this was going on. I thought American Girl dolls were expensive!

foxymama July 28, 2008, 2:22 PM

this is totally freaky. seriously, it’s one thing to put a doll in a display case and it’s another thing to take it around town shopping and in car seats. WOW!

sammy July 28, 2008, 2:27 PM

Until you’ve lost a child, you’ll never understand how valuable this is. If you don’t understand something, don’t judge!!

ame i. July 28, 2008, 3:42 PM

I have an elderly aunt in a nursing home. She loved playing dolls with my mom and her sisters when they were kids. We got her an American Girl doll several years ago and she absolutely loves that doll. She loves brushing the doll’s hair and changing her outfits. Several of her friends now have their own dolls and they can spend hours “caring” for them.
I think I’ll send a shout-out to some relatives and see if we can get her a Reborn doll.

T July 28, 2008, 6:01 PM

If I spent upwards of $500 on a doll, you better believe it’d be in a freaking car seat- maybe a safe deposit box. It is extremely irresponsible to leave such a doll in the car in plain sight while shopping, b/c people will try to rescue it, call police and waste time and resources on a doll. Really, cover up your fake baby before you leave him or her in a car in the summer, OK.

glen July 29, 2008, 7:24 AM

very wierd and sad.
Get a cat!

fran July 29, 2008, 9:18 AM

To me these “dolls” seems rather repulsive but I can see where a mother who has lost her baby might find solice by holding one…then again, I would think that would only remind her of what she lost. However, the human/biological psyche is not really logical.

Mary @ Adventures in Mommyland July 29, 2008, 1:42 PM

Yes this kinda creeps me out.

Anonymous July 29, 2008, 6:04 PM

Amen Sammy! I lost a child many years ago. I still long for that child to this day and I am over 45 years old. No I am not sick or wierd, and it never affected how I treated my other two children one was many years after the loss. I love my children very much and I work with children to this day. Maybe because of the loss or maybe just because I love children, who knows. I too collect dolls that I can afford, none like these though if I had the money to buy one I probably would but it wouldnt be my obsession or treat it like it was that baby. People like you that judge us women anger me, because you have no idea what it is like to lose a baby in preterm or in the newer months of pregnancy. Also Gods law says judge not lest you be judgec! If you have been in these ladies shoes and still throw judgement I pity you. I didnt hear anything either about ALL these woman take them to the store or leave them in the car it said SOME woman not ALL! Before you speak know your facts correctly, and even then check them again or dont say anything if you have nothing nice to say about someone!

Anonymous July 30, 2008, 10:19 AM

These dolls (babies) look so real. It must take true art skills and dedication to make one. Almost everyone collects something so why not dolls? If it makes them happy who are we to judge.
Live and let live and each to their own.

mommylovesmaggie August 1, 2008, 7:11 AM

This is weird. I am a mom and I don’t understand the logic behind having a fake baby? Baby dolls are alright for as long as they look like a “doll.” These look like real ones and that makes it all too weird.

Butterfly November 29, 2008, 6:17 PM

Well, I can see how many mothers can find this unusual, weird or upsetting… However, it is not for everyone and just because you dont like it, doesnt mean you should critisize those who make or buy them. I come from a big family and love children. My grandmother has 14 children, My mother has 10 of her own and I have 3 as of now… My mother is a huge doll collector. She collects both porcelain and realistic dolls. Not because she is weird or something is wrong with her. She collects them out of the love and passion she has for art and the love she has for children. She has 10 of us now and if she could, she would have more! This kind of keeps her content. This can even be therapuetic for elderly persons with Alzheimer’s Disease. The beauty and innocense of a newborn melts your heart and is a feeling like no other. I have always had a thing for art and am now starting to create these myself. I am starting to make them on my spare time while the kids are away in school just to keep me busy in the house. Once I have mastered this skill, I too will be selling them. This is just like any other hobby or art, except that it is 3 dimensional and not on paper! Everyone has their own ideas of what art is and have different hobbies. Example: Men like building and making model cars and this is no different… When you are making a model car you try to put in as many details as you can to make it look as realistic as possible. Same thing goes for these dolls. Now whether you plan on displaying them or playing with them is up to you. Its all in how you look at it! Everyone has their own opinion on things and you are entitled to it… This is America! But please dont down talk or say hurtfull things because you dont know what the other persons gone through to judge them like that. If you dont like them, you dont buy them. Simple as that! The fact of the matter remains that this is still ART and a SKILL. Just had to get that off my chest! Wheewww!

carole February 12, 2009, 3:12 PM

I make these dolls, most people who buy them just like dolls.

Katrina April 10, 2009, 2:38 PM

After hearing about these dolls through the BBC program, I had to have one. It sounded like a lot of fun to engage in a bit of make believe again. I loved baby dolls as a little girl so what’s the harm, right? I had no intention of treating it like a real infant. I just wanted to dress something up in frills and look at it. Sure, at 26 I am far too old to be playing with dolls, but it just looked like fun. So I searched eBay, found one I liked, picked out her name and waited for her to arrive. I’d already stopped by some baby boutiques and bought a few little dresses. But nothing could have prepared me for how creepy these things really are. I was so excited when the package came. Yay, I get to be a little girl again! If only. At 6 the realism would have been amazing. 20 years later I couldn’t shake the fact that it felt like I was holding a corpse. I didn’t trick mine out and get a heartbeat or warming pad or whatever, but she is so realistic that it truly is unsettling just how still and cool to the touch she is. It’s too much. I gave her and everything that had to do with her to my mother because she is an avid collector of dolls of all sorts. She has her displayed in a moses basket in her home and this doll fools almost everyone who sees her for the first time and most of her friends, women in their 50s & 60s, love her. Maybe I’ll have an appreciation for her when I’m older, but it was just too much. She’s beautiful and she’s absolutely a work of art, but just not for me.

olivy Junior November 12, 2009, 10:33 PM

don’t judge people just because u don’t like the same thing. not every reborn collector treat it like real babies. if there were some, just let them be. they do no harm to you. so just shut your pie hole and be cool about it :) and 500 dollar it’s not a lot for a piece of art. if u doesn’t have the money to spend like us.. please, don’t be jealous… be silence.

zahraa January 4, 2010, 6:50 AM

hi there
i love reborn babys and at homemy mom and dad have at least brougt me about 19
and i am so amazed at how they are done.
im only 12 years old and now that i have seen them i want to try and make one its a bit weird but im just so obsest with them I LOVE THEM THEY ARE MY TRESURES

chloe December 15, 2010, 7:19 PM

now that iv heard about them i really want one

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