A HAMPSHIRE firm is creating life-like dolls for grieving parents to replace their lost babies - or for others just to remember what their child was like as a newborn.
The dolls can be made to look exactly like real babies and even breathe and have heartbeats.
They look, feel and even smell like real babies.
Realistically weighted and cuddly to touch, their heads are covered in soft downy hair and tiny veins are visible if you look closely at their faces.
Staggeringly life-like, some of these dolls are fitted with a heartbeat or breathing mechanism enabling their chest to rise and fall, and they are often spritzed with a special fragrance to get that all-important newborn baby smell.
While many people buy them purely as collectables, others have very personal reasons behind their desire for a replica baby.
There are the bereaved parents who order a doll that’s a similar size and has the same eye and hair colour to their lost child.
And then there are those whose children have grown up and want to capture their children in baby-like form forever.
The dolls are also bought for Alzheimer’s patients in care homes and an increasing number of children are coveting them.
Growing tired of the glazed expressions and wig-like hair of traditional dolls, enthusiasts first created these life-like babies – called ‘reborns’ – in the USA more than a decade ago.
It quickly caught on across the globe, and Jayne Seddon – an award winning Hampshire-based doll maker and collector for more than 20 years – soon got involved.
Today ‘reborning’ has spawned an international industry, and dolls range in price from hundreds to thousands of pounds.
“I see them purely as a doll, but a very special doll,” says Jayne.
“For me it’s all about the artistic side and being able to create something that is so true to life that people think it really is a baby until they touch it.”
But Jayne is well aware that other people have much more complex reasons for wanting their own reborn doll.
“There is just something about them that makes you want to nurture them, and because they are so realistic, some people do treat them as if they were a baby, dressing them every day and changing their nappy.
“If that’s something people feel they want to do, I don’t see a problem with it. They’re not harming anyone. It’s not really that different to having a train set. People want those to be perfect and realistic down to the finest detail and it’s the same with dolls. They want it to be like a real baby.”
For Jayne it really is all about the detail.
She prides herself on making them look as true to life as possible, after all that is the point of reborning.
Struggling to keep up with demand, Jayne takes commissions as well as designing her own dolls.
“People often give me a picture of their child as a baby and want a doll just like that, to remind them of when they were young.”
And then there are “a select few people” who have lost children and ask Jayne for a reborn doll.
“It’s more tangible for them to hold a doll than looking at a picture. It’s comforting for some people to have that. If that’s what helps them, who is anyone to say that’s wrong? It’s a tool for people to come to terms with their grief but it doesn’t ever replace a baby.”
Jayne has also supplied care homes who say some Alzheimer’s patients can find reborn dolls reassuring.
And she is now finding that a lot of children want reborn dolls too.
“Normal dolls aren’t good enough anymore, they want a doll that looks like a real baby. My granddaughters all adore the babies but they are definitely not toys and it’s better children stick to the increasingly realistic manufactured dolls.”
Collecting dolls herself, Jayne has around 60, some of which are reborns.
With customers in every corner of the world, the majority of Jayne’s business is Internet-based, but she also exhibits regularly at specialist shows.
Offering reborn enthusiasts a chance to show off their ‘babies’, many proud ‘mums’ push their reborn dolls around the fairs in prams.
“People normally only do that at shows though because they’re among like-minded people,” explains Jayne. “We’re a niche community and it gives them a chance to show their dolls off.
“You may get the odd person who would take a reborn out in a pram normally – I have heard of people who do that – but it’s probably one in a million.”
Initially working from a purposebuilt studio at her home in Titchfield, she moved into her own shop nearby two years ago.
Stepping inside ‘Tinkerbell Creations’ is like entering the word’s quietest kindergarten.
Gated off from the rest of the shop, is ‘the nursery’ where the reborn dolls are displayed.
With a fluffy rug on the carpeted floor and curtains at a makeshift window, babies lie in cribs while others sit in an incubator.
As well as people buying reborn dolls, there is also huge demand for people to make their own baby from a specialist kit.
And Jayne is one of the world’s largest suppliers of reborn parts, hence the eyeless babies’ faces which line the shelves here, the bags of specialist filling labelled ‘baby fat’ and bags of newborn hospital tags.
Jayne is a leader in this field, not only running classes teaching the art but she has also made a step-by-step DVD for people who live further afield.
She teaches people the painstaking process of how to create the vinyl dolls. It can take 40 hours alone just to root the hair (mohair is used because it’s so soft) and painting can take three days as each layer has to be baked separately.
A real labour of love, each doll can take Jayne as long as three months to complete as she fits her other commitments around them.
Sending each baby off with its own birth certificate, she admits they can be difficult to part with.
But the feedback she receives from her customers makes it all worthwhile.
As one new ‘mum’ comments on Jayne’s website: “I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My precious baby girl is just breathtaking, I love her so very much and have spent the past two days bonding with her.”