real life

Look closer. These babies are not what you think.

An example of a ‘Reborn’ doll, before and after assemblage.






There are some women who have always wanted to be mothers.

But what happens when this isn’t possible?

What if, for whatever reason – whether through a tragic death or miscarriage, being unable to conceive or simply never finding a partner to have a child with – a woman isn’t able to fulfill her dream of being a mother?

The reality is that the torment and the frustration and the emotional turmoil of desperately wanting, trying, or losing a baby is indescribable. And that anguish has to go somewhere, be driven into something – that’s how we cope.

The fast-growing ‘reborn’ subculture shows the – admittedly extreme – possible results of that kind of emotional trauma. This movement is comprised of people (mostly women) who collect startlingly lifelike newborn baby dolls.

These dolls are painstakingly handmade by specialist Reborn doll makers – and the women who buy them, generally treat the dolls as if they were real babies.

They take them to the grocery store.

They push them in strollers.

They feed them from a bottle.

When they carry them in their arms, they don’t haphazardly tug the toy along by one limb – they cradle the doll.

Reborn dolls are a part of their families.

Rebecca Martinez, a photographer who has extensively documented the Reborn movement, spoke to the New York Times about the women who collect these dolls:


“Many of them have a very, very strong genetic makeup to nurture and they love babies, and many are mothers. A lot of people think these are people who can’t have children. Some are, but many of them have children and love the baby stage of nurturing. They can love a baby, they can nurture it in a permanent way.”

Interestingly, the majority of the women active in the subculture are white, conservative and Christian.

You can click through the gallery below to see what these Reborn dolls look like:

Reborn baby dolls are startlingly lifelike.

Every Reborn doll is unique and handmade. The dolls are “adopted” from so-called “nurseries” – and can cost up to $15,000.


The Reborn dolls come complete with names and sometimes even adoption papers or birth certificates.

The dolls are so lifelike that there have been instances where police have smashed car windows to “rescue” babies left strapped into baby seats.

There is a community element to the Reborn subculture as well and the women involved often host baby showers, attend conventions and compete in beauty pageants.

There are more of these women out there than you might expect.

Writer Amy Choi discussed the Reborn subculture on blog Feministing:

“Granted, there’s a pretty big difference between loving a non-sentient being as a piece of art and loving it as if it were a real sentient human being… My first reaction was that these women should do something “real.” Shouldn’t you go find something more “important” to do? Why are you fulfilling this stereotype of women just obsessing about babies?

Some [people say] that these women should volunteer at hospitals or adopt children rather than waste their time with dolls. Would we respond this way if the story were about women collecting unusual wooden sculptures? Or first-run books, or musical instruments?”

Ms Martinez, the photographer of the women and their dolls, says she respects the women whose lives she documents but she definitely does not share their passion. In her interview with the New York Times she said:

“For me, they’re dolls that are beautifully made, crafted, but part of my fascination is I don’t feel these things… I’m fascinated by how people react, but I’m very, very neutral about them.

“It is a personal choice, where we put those emotions. People will love people and living creatures, but when people choose something that’s not real, and project all this love into that, I do my best to try to understand it.”

The reasons these women have for projecting their love onto a doll are diverse. Some of these women are already mothers, and just have ‘extra love to give’. But for the most part, they are women who are trying to fill a void in their life. An emptiness.

They have lost children. Or never had children to begin with.

Some women – those who are grieving for lost babies – even buy dolls to resemble the infants they have lost.

The Daily Mail reports:

Briton Nikki Hunn, a graphic designer who now makes the dolls, told Le Quotidien newspaper that she had created around half a dozen of the dolls for women who had lost a child, although most of her clients were passionate about dolls.

Most would keep them at home in a cradle, she said, but others would take them on holiday, where no one knew them.
Eve Hasty, a 57-year-old American who bought ‘Abby’ in Britain for some $300 (£180), said Abby reminded her of her seven-year-old daughter who died of leukaemia.

However, psychologists are divided on whether or not Reborn dolls are a useful tool for grieving mothers.

Ingrid Collins was quoted by the paper as saying that the ‘reborn babies’ risked creating more problems than they resolved: ‘When you have mourned your child, what do you do with the doll? Do you bury it?

‘If people have lots of love to give and no baby, there are lots of living human beings who need care,’ she said.

However, Sandra Wheatley said the doll could be a ‘tool’ to help parents mourn the loss of their child and could be healthy as long as it wasn’t used for too long.

Whether or not you think that Reborn dolls seem helpful, or are heartbreaking – or some combination of the two – there’s no denying that they are fascinating.