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