'Holding fake baby helped me get over heartache of losing my child'
We meet mums whose kids are plastic
A BUNCH of doting mums rock their babies while chatting over coffee just like any other mothers' group – except these tots are made of PLASTIC.
The eerily lifelike replica infants are known as "reborn dolls" and this get-together is Britain's only fake baby club.
It meets once a month behind closed doors in Brownhills, near Birmingham, and there is just one subject on the womens' agenda — their love of reborn dolls.
"This is a place where women can come with their dolls and treat them like real babies without fear of judgment or abuse," explains organiser Suzanne Lewis, who runs a shop selling the dolls.
"This is a safe environment for them to indulge their love of reborns with like-minded women."
The first reborn doll was created in the US in the early Nineties and the phenomenon spread to Britain.
It came to most people's attention after the Channel 4 documentary My Fake Baby where a woman was seen wheeling her baby around the streets in a pram.
Suzanne, the mum of two teenage boys, says: "Some women would love to be able to push their babies around the streets in a pram but after My Fake Baby we found the abuse level towards women and their reborns shot up. So I hit upon the idea of having a club."
Suzanne, 45, from Brownhills, adds: "All life has come through my shop doors since I opened my reborn dolly shop seven years ago.
"I've heard incredible stories. We get a lot of women who've lost children and are looking to replace them but they are the minority.
"I know my dolly club will polarise opinion but we're not hurting anyone, so why not?"
One of the members of Suzanne's group is Emma Weaver, 36, a mum of six from Stourbridge in the West Midlands. She was four months pregnant with her fifth child when she lost the baby.
She says: "It was an absolutely traumatic time. I adored being pregnant and had totally bonded with the life inside me. Afterwards I was bereft.
"I still felt pregnant and my hormones were raging but I had nothing to show for it. My arms literally ached to hold a baby, so I looked on eBay. It was there I found Bella.
"She was so tiny, like a prem baby, and reminded me of the tiny life I'd lost. When she arrived I was stunned to see how she felt like a real baby in my arms. Her body is so soft, her features so lifelike and I need to support her head too. Bella has brought enormous joy to my family's life and to me. I love cuddling her in the evening — I call it my cuddle therapy time."
Emma says her husband Thomas, a forklift truck driver, loves cuddling her too and she thinks it has helped him to cope with their loss.
She adds: "Five years on I have had another real child, a daughter, so today I have five daughters and one son — oh, and Bella, of course.
"Bella came into my life when I needed her most and she is very, very special to me.
"She sleeps in a moses basket next to our bed and when I take her out I put her in her real car seat. I used to take her to the shops but stopped because I got so much abuse from strangers saying I should be ashamed of myself.
"It's so sad I've had to stop taking her out in public — she's like a real daughter to me and I am proud of her."
Another member of the group is Andrea, who asks not to have her last name revealed.
She explains that two-and-a-half years ago her "beautiful and spirited" 20-year-old daughter Vicky died.
Andrea says: "The gulf her death left in my life was enormous. Words cannot describe the utter agony and raw pain of my grief.
"I tried everything: counselling, medication — I even bought a puppy — but they didn't even touch my pain.
"I had sunk to rock bottom. One day I was looking on eBay and something made me type baby doll into the search engine. Up came page upon page of reborn dolls.
"One stood out so much it made me gasp — a baby doll that was the absolute spit of my Vicky when she was a newborn.
"My baby doll arrived exactly two years to the date Vicky died.
"When I opened the box my heart stopped. 'This is baby Vic,' I gasped. She was identical. I can't even begin to describe the joy she has brought to my world. Baby Vic has saved my life."
Andrea lives alone and her reborn has her own nursery with a wardrobe full of gorgeous clothes.
She says: "She has a pram, two moses baskets and a cot.
"I'd love to push her round the streets but I know I'll get looks.
"I get her up in the morning and dress her carefully in some pretty clothes, then I hold her close to me. Having baby Vic in my arms has filled the void left by Vicky's death.
"My other children are 29 and 26 and they can see the difference in me, so they don't judge me.
"Soon I will have three baby dolls. Then I can hold them close, lock them away from the world and keep them safe. At least I know that they will never die or leave me."
Shaz Davies, 55, from Willenhall, West Mids, helps Suzanne to make the dolls.
She says: "My husband Stephen died last April and I help to care for my three grandchildren. I have always been into crafts and when I found out about the shop, I called Suzanne and now I help make the dolls. The thing I love most is the painstaking process of micro-rooting, where you attach the hair to the doll's head strand by strand. An entire head can take up to 60 hours.
"I really believe being a reborner has stopped me having a breakdown. I get such joy from making my babies. At least these ones don't answer me back."
And Claire Cope, 38, from Brownhills, says: "These dolls are so therapeutic — they should be available on the NHS."
The mum of three boys adds: "I have an autistic son who is ten now. I knew he was special the minute he was born but he wasn't diagnosed until he was four.
"It has been difficult at times. Autistic children aren't good with affection. He'd rather shake your hand than give you a kiss.
"Dealing with my reborn dolls is more straightforward and bringing them to life is the ultimate escape."
Claire has 20 dolls at home and can't bear to be parted from them.
She says: "I have some in a crib next to my bed and some in a pram in the conservatory. My husband groans when I bring another baby home."
Tracy Cane, 47, from Hednesford, Staffs, says now her four sons have grown up, she felt totally lost and didn't know what to do.
She adds: "My husband had seen Suzanne's shop so we went in. Now I just couldn't bear to part with my babies — Sophie, Oliver, Layla, Ember, Lily Rose and Emma.
"It's lovely to have girls at last after having four real sons.
"The women who come to these clubs aren't just friends, they're like my family.
"We laugh together, we cry together, but most of all we just love our dolls."