Lifelike 'Reborn' dolls a comfort to some, curiosity to others

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – They sound like the perfect babies: They don't cry, they don't get messy and they don't wake you up in the middle of the night.

They're also made of plastic, or in some cases, silicone.

Lifelike baby dolls, known as "Reborns," are, possibly, more popular with adults than with children.

"There's just something really soothing and relaxing about holding a baby," said Dorie Gilliam, a mother of three adult children who began collecting "Reborns" several years ago.

Gilliam said she instantly fell in love with the realistic dolls and bought her first one at a doll collector's show. Now, she has about 40 of them.

"My plan was to get one or two," she said, "And they just kind of grew."

Collectors like Gilliam "adopt," or purchase, their babies from others who are skilled in giving the lifelike qualities to what, otherwise, would be ordinary toys.

Jennifer Carlson has been "giving birth" to "Reborns" for more than a decade.

A self-taught artist who began making and selling tiny sculptures of newborn babies about a dozen years ago, she later decided to try her hand at "reborning."

"The art (of making "Reborns") started with taking apart dolls that were already on the shelves at stores and making them look much more realistic," Carlson said.

Now, she said, most "Reborners"start with a kit, often purchased online.

Carlson carefully paints on tiny details, like veins and skin splotches, and uses a tiny needle to place every hair in the doll's head.

Sand or beads will be inserted into the body cavity to give the dolls the weight and feel of a real baby, she said.

"When the doll's fully assembled and they've got the clothing on, then it's like, 'Wow!'" Carlson said. "They take a personality on of their own. They have an expression, you know, the way that their eyes look."

These little dolls can be big business.

They can sell for anywhere from hundreds to several thousand dollars.

Gilliam said her Reborns have been mistaken for the real thing.

"We were at a truck stop one time and had one of the babies in the back seat of the car," Gilliam said. "This family became irate and said, ‘How dare you leave your baby in the car!'"

Carlson also has seen some unusual reactions from people, particularly when it comes to the idea of an adult playing with what they perceive as a toy — a very realistic toy.

"If it brings you joy, there's nothing creepy about making yourself happy and enjoying a little piece of your childhood again," Carlson said.