Not Child's Play: 'I Feel Like I Have a Real Baby'

Women embrace "reborns," designed to look and feel like a real newborn.

December 23, 2008, 10:58 AM

Jan. 2, 2009— -- There is almost nothing as miraculous as a newborn baby. And for some women, the desire for a tiny infant never goes away.

To satisfy their yearning, they're turning to so-called "reborns," dolls that are designed to look and feel just like a real newborn baby.

Linda, 49, who asked that her last name be kept private, is one of the few women willing to speak about her relationship with reborns. She says she enjoys taking them out and about with her and comforts them like actual infants.

"It feels like I have a real baby," she said.

Married with no children of her own, Linda says she feels like a mom now that she has reborns.

"I take them out to the park, if I'm walking the dog, and maybe put it in its stroller, or put it in its sling, or hold it in a blanket, and people do think it's real."

Linda even buys them real baby clothes because she says, "They don't fit in doll clothes. You have to buy real baby sizes." Linda admits that her dolls are kind of a substitute for babies and that she especially savors moments when other people think that her reborns are real.

"I guess it would be considered, like, a maternal instinct," she said. "You're, like, all happy and proud, 'cause they're, you know, googling over your baby."

When asked whether she had considered adopting a real baby, Linda said it wasn't the right choice for her.

"It's very difficult to get, you know," she said. "And it's a lot more expensive than buying the little dolls."

On average, Linda spends about $500 for each reborn, which are delivered by mail to her home.

Her first, named Jodi, is from Florida-based doll artist Eve Newsom. "I call my reborns babies," Newsom said. "Because to me, by the time I'm finished, the purpose is to make it a baby."

Reborns: 'Just the Good Part of Motherhood'

Creating the dolls is an elaborate process that begins with vinyl doll parts and glass eyeballs imported from Germany. The blush of newborn skin is created by adding several layers of flesh-colored paint. To seal it, the dolls have to be baked. Their limbs and head are then cooled.

Then Newsom painstakingly microroots more than 20,000 strands of mohair onto the dolls head. The result: an astonishingly lifelike doll that a woman somewhere is yearning for.

"I want to do this and it pleases me and fortunately it pleases thousands of others," said Newsom. "Not just hundreds, but thousands."

For some, the fake babies fill a void. In Newsom's case, it is a void left by having seven miscarriages.

"Not being able to have children. And not having the resources, actually, to adopt," she said. "This was my calling. And now it's my passion. ... My reborns bring me a medium of joy and happiness."

She added that while the reborns "don't reciprocate, exactly," she finds her experience with them to be "very nurturing, it's very cathartic for me."

The reborn phenomenon is a growing trend in the United States and overseas. ABC News went to a reborn convention this summer in Illinois to learn more about the fascination with these dolls.

Lachelle Moore and her husband, Alan, drove nearly four hours to the convention in hopes of bringing home an addition to their already large family that includes grown children and grandchildren.

Lachelle Moore said that she still feels the need for babies who'll never grow up.

"What's so wonderful about reborns is that they're forever babies," she said. "They don't give you any trouble. There's no college tuition, no dirty diapers. … Just the good part of motherhood."

That day, she purchased a reborn called Rachel for $1,400 to add to her collection of 36 dolls.

More Than a Hobby?

Psychiatrist Sue Varma, who teaches at the NYU School of Medicine, believes that for some, collecting reborns is "more than just a hobby."

"Where it may become a problem, [is] if this is used as the only means of social interaction," said Varma. "If it's being used as a prop."

Studies show that when cuddling a real baby, brain chemicals are released that cause a kind of emotional rush.

No one knows if that happens with reborns, but Varma said, "I would not be surprised to learn that if a woman is holding a fake baby, that she would have the same chemical, hormonal reactions as if she was holding a real baby."

Several woman we spoke to called holding the reborns "cuddle therapy."

And when Linda received a new, dark-haired baby from Newsom, she seemed like a mom seeing her child for the first time.

"She's beautiful, oh my God, she's gorgeous!" Linda said.

Some people may think taking a fake baby out in a stroller and buying them real baby clothes is just bizarre, but Linda says it's better than having a "crazy habit" such as "drinking, or something that's going to hurt you."

"It's like a hobby," she said, "and it doesn't really hurt anybody."