I’m besotted with my fake babies
Mum treats dolls
like real children
CRADLING little Amy in her arms, doting Rachel Stephens gently places the baby into her Moses basket.But she has no fear of being woken in the night by the little one — because the tiny bundle is a DOLL.
Rachel, 44, is one of a community in the UK who care for the ultra-realistic imitation babies known as "Reborns".
She was warned by doctors that polycystic kidney disease meant her body was not strong enough to cope with another pregnancy after she had her second child.
Rachel was devastated she would never again have a newborn to cuddle, so she turned to a fake baby instead.
Amy cost £300 and Rachel treats her as she would a real baby, taking her for walks in her pram — and she even considered expressing milk to feed her.
Rachel's own children feel jealous of the baby and her husband David* will not touch Amy, though Rachel insists she will never give up her fake child.
The full-time mum says: "When I first held Amy at a dolls' fair it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
"I've always been a maternal woman. Even as a child I adored babies and I bought my first Mother And Baby magazine when I was just 13.
"I met my husband when I was 19. He was my first boyfriend. We married four years later and it seemed natural to have kids straight away.
"I lost my first baby. It was an awful experience but then I fell pregnant again and this time it all went to plan. I felt like I was floating on air."
Rachel, from Liphook in Hampshire, gave birth to Toby*, who is now 15.
She adds: "Breastfeeding came naturally to me, as did night feeds and changing nappies.
"Just as Toby was being weaned, I fell pregnant with Rebecca. This was perfect as it meant I had another baby to breastfeed which I loved. I enjoyed motherhood so much I planned on having six babies."
But after the birth of Rebecca, now 13, doctors told Rachel she should not have another pregnancy as it would put her kidneys under too much strain.
She says: "I was devastated to be told not to have any more children. I am so broody that even now, in my forties, a baby crying in a supermarket or me holding baby clothes will make me produce milk."
As Rachel was fretting over no longer having babies to look after, she saw a TV programme about Reborn dolls.
She says: "The presenter shocked me by explaining that the gorgeous eight-month-old girl with peachy skin was actually a doll.
"I was mesmerised as she was so realistic — painstakingly modelled and painted by hand to look and feel just like a real baby.
"Each hair had been added individually to her head and eyelids and she was painted with veins before layers of paint were added to build up the skin tones. I discovered each doll has fingernails, milk spots, flaky skin and downy baby hair.
"One woman was filmed sitting on a park bench cuddling her Reborn doll and anyone passing would have mistaken it for an actual baby. She looked so happy and I knew then and there that I wanted one for myself.
"I began scrimping and saving and even selling some of my belongings, including my pet guinea pigs, to pay for a doll without dipping into family funds." Five months ago Rachel had finally saved enough and went to a dolls' fayre in Peterborough, Cambs.
She says: "I picked up the doll I had my heart set on and rocking baby Amy in my arms I felt a wave of love wash over me.
"I gazed at her perfect newborn skin, tiny fingers and downy hair and never wanted to put her down. I told the woman behind the stall this tot was the one and paid her the £300.
"I was over the moon as I carefully placed Amy in her new baby clothes and gently cuddled her against my chest in her baby sling.
"On the bus home the driver cooed over her and said how gorgeous she was.
"I smiled proudly but confessed she wasn't real. The driver looked confused, as though she didn't quite believe me.
"A couple who started cooing over Amy at the train station were equally shocked when I revealed she was a doll. At home the reaction was less positive. My husband was horrified and refused to look at Amy and the children were just as appalled.
"Rebecca even asked, 'Aren't we enough for you?' Her words hurt but I explained that loving Amy didn't mean I loved them any less.
"I'm aware Amy is a doll but when I rock her in my arms I feel so happy as nothing compares to holding a newborn. I even got Amy into the routine of a new-born and considered expressing milk to feed to her but realised it would just dribble down her chin.
"She sleeps in a crib at the foot of my bed, I get her dressed in the morning from the pile of outfits I have for her in her own chest and take her out in her pram alongside the other mums. If it's cold I wrap her up warm.
My family's attitude has not softened in the five months Amy has lived with us. Rebecca hates me taking her outside and refuses to come with me when I push her to the shops.
"But since getting Amy I've become even more obsessed with Reborns and recently bought a toddler doll who I call Abby. My children hate Abby even more than Amy.
"My son says she scares him and on a couple of occasions they've insisted I put her outside in the wendy house for the night.
"I don't like to see my children distressed but I'm not going to let their disgust stop me from adding to my collection.
"Eventually I'd love a room of cribs filled with Reborn dolls.
"My love for them isn't hurting anyone, so where's the harm?"
* Names have been changed