Lifelike Dolls Take the Place of Real Babies for Some Parents

by Laura Christianson

They look and feel like a newborn baby.

But their limbs are vinyl, their glass eyeballs are imported from Germany, and their rosy cheeks are hand-painted.

Women are buying these lifelike “reborn dolls” by the thousands.  That’s right. I said women. Not girls.

Apparently, reborns are taking the place of real babies for some women who have had multiple miscarriages, are infertile, or don’t have the resources to adopt a child.

ABC’s 20/20 quoted one mommy of a reborn doll, who said that her experience with her baby has been “very nurturing, it’s very cathartic.”

Does anyone else find this trend more than a little odd?

I understand the pain of infertility and the frustration of waiting seemingly forever to adopt a child – I’ve lived with it myself. And I understand that “cuddle therapy” can release beneficial endorphins in the brain.

But taking a looks-like-a-real-baby-doll out in public and pretending it’s your real baby? Paying $1,400 for a reborn instead of parenting a real child? That’s just plain creepy.

There are plenty of options for women who long for “baby time.”

  • Rocking sick babies in the hospital
  • Temporary foster parenting of newborns waiting to be adopted
  • Interim babysitting for single parents
  • Volunteering in the church nursery
  • Visiting an orphanage
  • Helping in a teen parenting program

Am I missing a vital perspective here, readers? Help me out; chime in with your opinion!

Related story & photos:

Therese Garcia January 6, 2009 at 9:27 AM

Thanks Laura!
I was very happy to see the list of things that we can do to help little ones…. most especially for those who are unable to adopt. How can we help the ones that need to be held and loved and comforted? We can volunteer to be a helping hand. I find it a very selfish act not to want to respond to a living person. For someone desiring to carry a non living baby (doll), it is very odd indeed! Where are the gifts that God has breathed into our souls? The beatitudes, which were given in the Sermon on the Mount… where are we going from here? If we can not find compassion in our hearts? I think mostly that there is fear taking hold of many, because they are afraid of being hurt! Afraid of truly living the gospel of life.
I pray that we can see that no one can love a child that is not real… What are we truly looking for? Perfection? I guess caring for a doll you will not have the problems that a real baby might have. I know we should not fear life and the gifts that God gives us. We must learn to open our hearts to the lives God brings, so that we can live more abundantly in his grace.
Blessings In Christ Jesus,

MamaPoRuski January 6, 2009 at 1:35 PM

As an RN with Alzheimer’s clients we do find caring for a baby to be helpful, but we avoid the ones that look TOO real as it causes concern in the others with dementia that recognize a doll from a child, these are too difficult for them to tell the difference!
Also, $4000 is a lot to spend and the article mentions some women also purchase baby care items to go along with the doll, that is a LOT of money to spend to satisfy your need to nurture! I too like your list of alternatives. I’d also add to your list to support an orphan monthly-some humanitarian groups cost as little as $15 a month and you get pictures and updates. Some will let you travel and meet your child as well!

Laura Christianson January 6, 2009 at 6:27 PM

Caring for a doll certainly does eliminate the “problem” of interacting with a live human being, temper tantrums, back-talk, and all the other crazy, joyful, frustrating things that go with raising a real child. I like your point about not looking for perfection in a child. Granted, we’ll never find perfection in a real child, but are highly unlikely to find it in a doll, either.
Thanks for suggesting supporting orphan-care humanitarian groups. It’s not necessarily “hands-on” nurturing, but it certainly improves the welfare of a child who really needs the help!
Hosting an orphan through an orphan summer exchange program brings the child physically into your home — there are many good programs for this, as well.

elizabeth February 5, 2009 at 1:52 AM

From another perspective; I got into reborn dolls unexpectently but I love to make them, sell them (of course!) and yes, at times, pick one up for a cuddle, rock them and change their clothes. I also take my doll to the mall and push it around in a stroller.. and pass out business cards. It’s fun when people insist that they are real! It’s flattering. I’m a good reborn artist.
It’s an interesting assumption that EVERY SINGLE ONE of the women to like reborn dolls is sick, in need of a psychiatrist, or wasting her time, and has some sort of creepy emotional problem.
I don’t like your assumptions or fly to judgment, but your suggestions are good ones. I can’t speak for another but I can answer you lovely ladies for myself:
1. I experienced loosing a loved one in a hospital. I also worked in a hospital most of my life. (BTW I raised 4 healthy boys). If I went back into a hospital I’d like to go back into nursing! It’s my true passion! However a car accident 5 years ago disabled me and took that away. That along with severe arthritis put me on Viodin 3x day and muscle relaxants for chronic pain.
At the moment going into a hospital would make me angry and sad. Anyway I can’t drive on Vicodin and muscle relaxants.
I would love to volunteer my time to the nursery sometime in the future if that becomes possible for me. I do support the Linus Foundation and crochet blankets in addition I donated over 50 “hats” to the hospital nursery where I used to work.
2. My husband says he raised 4 kids the youngest is now 20 and still at home. He emphatically does not want any more children even on a temporary basis.
3. I babysit a 2 yr old as often as I am physically up to it. I’ve been helping my niece with him since he was born.
4. My church doesn’t have a nursery. At my church the babes go right into the regular sacrament meeting with the adults.
5. There isn’t an orphanage near my home. I didn’t even know they still had those to be honest.
6. I have worked with teens although it was several years ago. I also volunteered time in a woman’s (with children) shelter.
7. I’m a nurse, and I spent 20 years in med surg, L & D, and baby nursery.
8. I would love to adopt a child! Aside from my husband’s feelings now, we are both too old to qualify. We did try to adopt a baby girl and almost completed the adoption in ’89 until the bio Mom changed her mind. The Adoption Agency told us we weren’t a priority as even though we had 4 boys and wanted a girl, we already had 4 children and there were people on the list who had no children.
My oldest, second and third sons moved out at the same time my parents both went into a SNF with Alzheimers two states away. This is a very sad time for me. Between chronic pain and feeling a loss it’s been an adjustment.
As a young Mom, I couldn’t wait for my boys to grow up and it seemed they never would. Now there are days when I wish they were babies again. I try to remember it all and I pick up a doll for a cuddle, all of those memories and feelings come flooding back. It’s a wonderful healing experience for me right now.
I do see a therapist, and a psychiatrist, who feel the dolls are OK, very healing in many ways for me.
Of course there are always the nuts out there who go to far. But I don’t have the license to judge them. From some of your comments, I guess you all are licensed therapists????
Dr. Phil says it’s OK. Is that the one show you didn’t see?
Anything new and outside of the norm is creepy. Especially if they make horror movies about the subject which in this case is dolls, i.e., Chucky.
I’m not selfish. As a nurse I’ve spent the best portion of my life caring for others. I’ve loved and raised 4 children to adulthood. My psychiatrist tells me I’m not mentally ill. I think you ladies should be more gentle, less judgmental towards your sisters. Perhaps women who pretend the dolls are real need to do that? What I find REALLY creepy are men who hang animal heads all over their homes.

annette July 23, 2010 at 12:17 AM

Hi Elizabeth,

Good on you. I am sorry for the challenges you have experienced and as one women to another PROUD that you have come through a strong caring person. I personally love them and am saving to purchase one. Yes to those who need to hear Iwe know they are dolls, but I think it is no different than model car collectors, craft, pottery etc. For the minority of women who have a need to have a reborn for therapy good on them! Whatever works. Cya

Gili March 27, 2009 at 8:09 AM

I am a very happy mother through adoption. My husband and I adopted older children with special needs and I don’t have time to volunteer anywhere right now. I haven’t spent tons of money on dolls, but I do have one in a newborn size. I would like to have the experience of cuddling and dressing a newborn, preferably newborns that look like what I imagine my kids looked like at birth. Yes, I do feel that I missed out on something by not being there until they were older. I admit that “doll therapy” may be a little weird and can be taken to extremes, but if it brings joy and healing, I don’t see why people should annoy the doll owner with nasty comments. (We can reserve those for the SUV owners 🙂
I also see another potential use for realistic dolls in adoptive families: for children who have no photos of themselves at birth and/or who suffer from a negative image of themselves as babies, a doll in the child’s likeness can demonstrate just how lovable that child was. Because we know how kids like to blame themselves for their relinquishment…

reborn dolls April 27, 2009 at 11:52 AM

Not only are the reborn babies fun to collect but they can be very theraputic, especially for women. Studies have shown that holding and cuddling a baby, whether a real baby or a realistic baby, releases hormones in the body that promotes emotional well being.

reborner July 14, 2009 at 7:39 AM

I agree with “Reborn Dolls” in the previous post. Reborn baby dolls can be therapeutic for some women.
Not all women that collect reborn dolls are childless, but for some of those not able to have their own children, these reborn babies provide a great deal of comfort and happiness in their lives. furthermore, the art of “reborning” – which is making reborn dolls from previously manufactured life-like dolls or even reborn doll kits – is a highly specialised hobby requiring a great deal of skill and patience.

Matt August 26, 2009 at 10:41 AM

Hello. It is nice to see somthing mentioned on this topic via the internet. I tend to agree that having a child doll/newborn can be very healing. Especially for those who can’t afford or file for adoption. Anyone who has ever wanted a child of their own, and adores them I see no problem in owning one to hold, nurture, talk with at home. It can be a therapeutic moment. I know this is probly uncommon in men, but I have a desire to nurture also and love children myself. I am single and refuse to have one night stands and rush into relationships. I want to make sure the one I love is true and I will be happy with for the rest of my life. I certainly don’t want the children to suffer if later things don’t work out… and I really hate to have them experience this mad world we live in also. I really feel sorry for the younger generation.. and I really hope someday it will be better for them, I can hope.
Yes, I realize that helping children in need is another great outlet and very productive for the community. I totally agree with that. There are alot of children nowadays who are in need for a positive role model/mentor and someone who is going to has a real heart to help them. It seems like some kids are lost and turn to things to fill the void from a empty home.. and that is sad. So we deffinately need people to be there for them and help in some way through your local/national organisation that helps them.
Only if you feel ready though.
I guess to sum things up, I believe that if you are in the right state of mind, loving a lifelike newborn/child doll isn’t a bad thing.. and can help… as long as it doesn’t go to far.. and you realize it is not living and it doesn’t affect you being truly production in society or your relationships with a false sense of secuity or ‘reality’. Just my opinoin I thought I would add from a male perspective.
Thank you for your time.

dor May 26, 2010 at 6:48 PM

I have bought a couple of reborns and now have just gotten a masterpiece doll and I see nothing wrong with holding them and changing their clothes I am a grandmother now and a young one at that being only 37 when I became a grandma now I am 42 and love the dolls I have bought although I do not take them out with me and treat them as if they are real I do hold them and change the clothes often I am not crazy or need to do volunteer work I just find them beautiful and was sick of seeing people comment with rude remarks just because they do not understand lots of people have hobbies that may seem weird to others but to each his own and god is the only person who can judge us
my daughter loves going shopping with me since my new masterpiece doll wears almost the same size as my grand daughter and I have often given her clothes when she comes over and sees an outfit I have for my dolls that she likes for her daughter and do not waste your breath telling me what you think I need ha ha cause I really do not care what you people think I just wanted to post a positive view on reborns they are lovely and take alot of talent and hard work to make a doll look as real as some of them do and if you do a search on reborns you will see that its a growing market so there are obviously alot more people out there buying these types of dolls

Tara September 5, 2010 at 7:53 PM

There are some problems with your Dickensian charity scheme:

* Rocking sick babies in the hospital

Wouldn’t want some unqualified hazard and danger sweeping in and near my sick and possibly immunity impaired child, thanks but no thanks.

* Temporary foster parenting of newborns waiting to be adopted

Only those qualified pls. Getting a doll only requires money, a lot of people simply are not able to take care of a child, especially a newborn.

* Interim babysitting for single parents

And lecturing them about how their parents are going to hell I assume?

* Volunteering in the church nursery

Churches around here only have old ladies. No volunteering for the godless heathens?

* Visiting an orphanage

Same as the hospital case, don’t want anyone unqualified around children with issues just to make them (not the children) feel like saints.

* Helping in a teen parenting program

Also very challenging and not suited for those unqualified.

azsli petersen December 13, 2010 at 7:51 PM

I have been trying to conceive for over a year now. There’s a chance I will never be able to have a baby of my own. I have a Ashton drake Emily baby.I gave her middle and last names.To me she is real. I love her and take her with me when I go out. (if its not to cold). I hold my 6 month old nephew all the time but the problem is you have to give them back or you get attached and then they go home or get adopted and you have to give then up. With these babies they never grow up and you never have to give them away. Adoption is expensive and some people can’t do it. By the way Ashton drake babies are only a couple hundred dollars not thousands. They fill a void that only a baby can.

Jenn Doucette July 1, 2011 at 11:50 AM

Sorry gang, but I think it’s creepy. I see it as just one more way we are supplanting real, genuine relationships for counterfeit. We are killing real babies and buying fake babies. Hmmmm. I say “we” meaning we as a culture. I like Fox News’ take on it.

ashley petersen July 1, 2011 at 2:38 PM

To say we are killing babies and buying dolls is just wrong. most of the reborn mothers can not have children and would never dream of abortion even as a option for anyone. also reborn mothes have plenty of human interaction.your list s fine by day but what about at night when these mothes can either hold their babies or cry themselves to sleep. reborn are good and thereis nothing wrong with the babies or parents

Thea Ramirez August 15, 2011 at 4:41 PM

In my opinion these dolls are meeting a very real need in those that seek comfort from it. I think however, this is where some women can go down a path that is very hard to come back from. The nature of any adoption or infertility experience is such that the end result, 100% of it, is fixated on having a baby. I believe it is possible for some to become so fixated on the end goal that it distorts reality and their sense of life fulfillment. The end result is “baby hyperfixation”, or the notion that an infant will “make me feel complete”. Although these dolls meet a need, I think that they can become dangerous crutches, keeping those who use them to derive fulfillment, imprisoned in denial and the acceptance of grief that comes with the loss of having a child.

If you or someone you know carries a lifelike doll with them, offer a listening ear. You can’t push someone out of denial, but you can help them feel safe by not judging them, telling them what they ought to do, and helping them find their voice. Treat them like you would someone who has experienced a major loss and that is with sensitivity and care. Prayer is a powerful tool as well!

Lynn Luck October 19, 2011 at 8:36 AM

when people tell me i have a strange hobby collecting reborn dolls and vintage prams I always ask them to what they are comparing it . Watching tv 2 to 5 hours a day ? Playing poker machines or other gambling ? binge drinking ? over eating ? Flying model aircraft ? etc.etc.
For me the prams look better with a little occupant and pushing a pram is a lot more rewarding than taking a walking frame for a walk [ had a bad fall out walking ] . So i get some exercise, preserve a few of these iconic and historic prams and feel my empty nest a lot less . I have also met some lovely people in the process .

The Song of a woman December 8, 2011 at 9:43 PM

Alright ladies. No one asked me, and opinions are worth about what they cost, but here is mine anyway.
I am a mother of 4 small children. The oldest is nearly 7, the twins are nearly 5, our youngest is nearly 3. I am also pregnant with our fifth child. I stumbled upon these dolls last year while doing research on Christmas gifts to make for the girls. I was absolutely stunned by the artistry. I scrolled through the various models and found a beautiful one that looks just like my oldest daughter when she was only a couple of weeks old. Of course I fell in love all over again, just like looking at those old home videos and photographs. I can’t afford to buy it right now, but I am saving up. I have an adorable little outfit my sister in law bought for our oldest that she wore when that age that I’ve been keeping for something special. I adore being a mother. In fact, it is all I do besides being a wife (which I find most fulfilling). I use all of my time and talents on teaching, playing and learning with the children. I know they will grow so fast. I personally want to get a few of these little dolls as a reminder of those late nights nursing, of those restless hours of sickness, of those sweet sweet times that will all too soon pass. I know I only get to do this for real one time. I work hard every day to make sure I will have no regrets and that they will have no regrets. However, I find it nice and comforting to think that once the house is quiet and I no longer enjoy the putter patter of tiny feet racing up and down the stairs, or that familiar cry in the night that just needs a snuggle before going back to sleep has gone forever, that I will be able to look in at a little doll and not only enjoy the futuristic fantasies of childhood when looking forward to the joys of Motherhood, but have a lifetime of wonderful precious memories flood my heart and mind with the absolute wonder and miracle that I have been so blessed to call my own experience as “Mother” to those tiny precious souls. For me, it will be a piece of nostalgia, like the adoring of those home videos and pictures. Of course I will not take it out and pretend it is real, but I might just make a cloth diaper, or a tiny pair of booties, or a little dress and just enjoy “remembering when.”
I’ll probably eventually try my hand at making one for all our girls. Every woman was once a little girl, and every little gir, looking forward to Motherhood,l once loved a doll! 0:)

The Song of a woman December 8, 2011 at 10:37 PM

Just one more thought…
Perhaps these grown women who know they cannot ever have children of their own possess some magical child heart that they can still imagine and dream. We were all once little girls and it is no more creepy for these women to pretend than it was for us. The fact that their bodies have aged are not indicative of their heart’s desire, and really, can there be any more noble desire in a woman’s breast than that of being a Mother? To all those who are Mothers and would point the finger of scorn at these poor dear sweet women, who are hurting no one, why not look upon them with a Mother’s compassionate heart and comfort their souls in friendship rather than try to “fix” them. My husbands mother once told me that the most valuable thing she had learned in life was not to try to judge another person’s capacity, but to meet them wherever they were, to serve them and lift them however she could, and to love them.
I really should just post more on my own blog rather than taking up all of other people’s space, but thanks for letting me share. 0:). And for the non-heathen Christians…except YE become as a little child….
Ps. I love the heathens….I think in some ways we are all one….

Debbi April 14, 2012 at 1:52 PM

All of the people saying the doll collectors are weird need to mind their own business. I collect and have collected since was a child and it has nothing to do with not being able to have kids, losing a child or anything else. Its a freaking hobby. I think they are beautiful and enjoy collecting them. I worked at an animal shelter, have 2 kids, 5 grand kids and baby sit 4 kids. Why does everyone think it is their business to tell us that it is wrong or weird. Let all hobbyist spend their own money the way they want to. I don’t hear anyone telling car collectors to volunteer at a car wash or stuffed animal collectors to spend their time at a shelter instead. The news is not always telling the complete truth. The majority are just collectors. And for the few that the news does decide to exploit that likes to treat their dolls as real, well you do not live in their shoes. Whatever the reason they do that, its their reason and you need to stop judging. There is only one being that I know is allowed to judge, and believe me people, you are not Him! Stop over analyzing everything, get on with your life and let others enjoy theirs.

Lynn Luck June 14, 2012 at 4:27 PM

I collect dolls as props for my collection of vintage prams many of which I have restored . I know men who have model trainsets women who collect blue and white china , 2 who collect owls someone who collects christening gowns . One of my friends makes the reborn dolls. I have 6 adorable grandchildren and have no difficulty telling the difference between the dolls and the babies only the dolls are a lot less work !!! . People who tell other people how to live their lives used to be called busybodies . My doll collection does not preclude my work at a hospice or looking after and enjoying my family . Im not sure why I am even dignifying this argument with a comment just caught off guard by the self righteousness of some of the above comments i think .

Kiley June 14, 2012 at 6:33 PM

For heavens sakes people! It a HOBBY!!!!!! Are people not allowed to have a hobby unless it is accepted by self righteous people? Sure, there are some that take it to extreme, but doll collecting is the least of their so called problems! Doll collectors do not just sit in a room cuddling and dressing dolls! They hold down jobs, volunteer, have families, and are usually quite normal and well adjusted. Get off of your high horse and get a life. Mind your own business and maybe you can grow up. If you don’t like doll collecting, fine, but don’t condemn something you don’t understand and stop over analyzing and putting a sick spin on a perfectly normal hobby that has gone on for ages!

Ariel October 3, 2012 at 2:11 PM

Hello everyone. I cannot stand when people say that these dolls are “wrong” or “awful”. I am a teen girl. a TEEN. I have a rebron baby because almost all the girls at my school are pregnant. I do not want to be one of them. I want a baby so badly. But I am not married nor have the money to support a baby. Please be open minded. Yes I take my baby to the store. Yes I cange him when I have a chance. I am not crazy nor do I support abortion in any way. Stop being so mean. Or would you like me to be normal and go out and have a real baby?

Thanks everyone that is open minded.

Bonnie October 27, 2012 at 10:06 AM

I am a highly educated young Christian woman and I have a medical condition that does not allow me to have children naturally. I have one of these dolls (which I only paid $300.00 for, not thousands…) and find it extremely therapeutic to cuddle and rock it. I know she is not real. I don’t treat her as if she is. I simply love being able to hold something that looks and feels quite real. I do not have the means to adopt a baby, and I do volunteer in my church nursery. At the end of the day, after work, it’s just nice to hold a realistic looking/feeling baby for a bit to calm down. I understand that many people perceive these dolls as “creepy” and that the hobby of reborn collecting is “strange” and “unnatural.” But please, before criticizing, consider that for many women, having a doll like this is very therapeutic.

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