'Practice Babies': 1 Orphan Raised by 8 Mothers


The program was an early testing-ground for consumer research, a "gateway for early education for a different group of women who were so well educated," Keating said. "They were doing the science: How does yeast work when you make rolls, not just how to make rolls ... and the ergonomics of kitchen design and counter top heights."

But when the practice apartments were uncovered, it "blew the minds of a lot of people," Keating said.

And in 2010, when Grunwald's book came out, renewed interest emerged.

"A few graduates of the college were very upset," Keating said of the book. "They had fond memories of working with the babies and knowing that there were long waiting lists for women to adopt these babies."

Grunwald said she didn't mean to disparage Cornell or any of the other colleges.

"These were bizarre programs done with the best of intentions," she said. "I heard from a program in another part of the country and the baby would actually be put down to nap by one mother and be woken up by a different one."

Grunwald, who is 51 and the mother of two, 18 and 14, whom she raised in the supermom culture of New York City, wondered, "What happens if a child is given too much attention? The notion of eight to 20 women circling around an infant made my skin crawl."

Henry House struggles with issues of intimacy and attachment and fails to trust anyone after being raised by multiple mothers, "handed around like a tray of hors d'oeuvres," Grunwald wrote.

The author received an e-mail from one graduate who said she was so upset by the program that she quit, saying, "You can't treat children this way."

"Practice apartment" babies such as this one at Cornell were held to strict, scientifically engineered diets by their student "mothers."

As for the rearing of Denny Domecon, his practice mother Redmond admits, "I don't have 20-20 wisdom on that."

"We never knew what happened to him," she said. "It was an anonymous situation and sometimes I wonder about him. But that's the way it was."

Years later, when Redmond was working in administration at Cornell, a man contacted the home economics program.

"His aunt, on her deathbed, had informed him that he was one of those Domecon babies," she said. "He wrote to get some information about a way to find his parents. All those years, he never knew."

And she was unable to help him.

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