Cradling my baby in my arms, I gently rocked her back and forth. ‘Let’s get you back to bed,’ I whispered.
Placing her down in the bassinet, I planted a tender kiss on her forehead. How did I get so lucky? I wondered.
I hadn’t always been this happy. More than 18 years earlier, my relationship had broken down and my three sons were grown up. For years, I suffered from anxiety and depression but I longed to nurture a child the way I once had.
So, in December 2016, I found myself searching for realistic dolls on YouTube. Clicking on the first video that appeared, I watched in awe as the woman named Annette cooed over her baby on my screen. But I soon discovered that the little pink bundle was made of plastic!
Founder of the Miracle Babies Newborn Nursery, Annette had forged a career making the dolls. Known as reborns, the handcrafted figures are made to resemble newborns.
Blown away by how lifelike they seemed, I knew I needed one of my own. So I tracked down Yvonne, a local doll maker, and organised to meet with her the following day.
Taking my sister Laura, 62, along for the ride, I didn’t explain where we were going.
When we arrived, Yvonne had 14 dolls laid out on the table. Encouraging me to touch each creation, she said I’d know when I found ‘the one’. I’m sure it seemed strange to Laura, but she didn’t let her confusion show.
Then, Yvonne placed a little girl in my arms and I instantly burst into tears. With chubby cheeks and soft, pink lips, it was just like holding a real-life baby – my baby.
While Laura was sceptical at first, she could see how much it meant to me. ‘I want to pay for it as an early Christmas gift,’ she offered. At $300 each, the dolls weren’t cheap. But in that moment I felt my anxiety just melt away.
Naming her Daisy Grace, it was like she’d saved me. ‘It’s so nice to see you happy again,’ Laura beamed.
That night, as I cuddled my girl in bed, all my motherly instincts came flooding back.
The next day I raced out to second-hand shops to pick up clothes, a pram and even a car seat. From then on, Daisy Grace went everywhere with me.
Whether I was visiting the dentist or picking up groceries, my girl was always by my side.
‘How beautiful,’ strangers would say, eager for a closer look. ‘She looks just like a doll.’ ‘That’s because she is,’ I’d smile back, not wanting to give them the wrong idea.
Though sometimes I got strange looks, I’ve always explained that it’s a form of therapy – just like a companion pet. Besides, I didn’t care what people thought.
But while I was happy to parade my baby around, I realised that there must be other reborn mums who weren’t so confident. So I decided to start my own Facebook group called My Therapy Reborn Group, where others would have a safe space to discuss their own journey.
Connecting with women all over the world, I learned about the grief and hardship many of them faced before finding reborns.
While some parents had lost a child, others had trouble conceiving. But there were only a few who had ever dared to take their reborns out in public. I want to end the stigma that we’re crazy, I thought, feeling determined.
So, in April 2017, I invited them all out for coffee. Be sure to bring your babies, I encouraged.
When the day finally arrived, I excitedly headed to Carriage Cafe in Fremantle with Daisy Grace – and I was ecstatic to see each mum with a beautiful bundle in their arms. ‘We’re just like any other mums’ club,’ I smiled.
As word spread and more people heard about our gatherings, we soon had up to 18 reborn mums coming along each month.
Taking turns cuddling each other’s bubs, I soon realised I still had more love to give. So I adopted my second girl, Faith. Marvelling at her beauty, I wanted to learn more about how the babies were made. By now, Laura had become infatuated with reborns too, so we decided to take a doll-making course together.
Carefully threading individual strands of hair to our doll’s heads, it was a painstaking process. But as I admired my finished product, my heart swelled with pride. Naming my creation Hope, she was the perfect addition to my family.
Next came Pia, followed by Serenity, Mia, Maddison and finally Jovial, who was gifted to me by another collector in Hawaii. As a mum of eight, I’ve never felt more content.
Ranging from a few hundred dollars, right up to $2500 per doll, it certainly isn’t a cheap hobby. But the amount of joy my girls have brought to my life is priceless.
Annette has become a good friend, and inspired by her, I’ve since started my own YouTube channel, My Therapy Reborn Group, to educate others of the benefits of adopting reborns.
Without them, I wouldn’t be the confident woman I am today.