Dolls that look and feel like real babies

Dolls that look and feel like real babies

SINGAPORE - The sale of amazingly lifelike baby dolls has recently caught on in Singapore, but some psychologists worry about their negative social and psychological implications.

Called Reborn dolls, these dolls have been crafted to resemble a human baby with as much realism as possible, even down to their mottled skin, eyelashes, and even veins.

They first became available in the 1990s in the US, and quickly spread to being available over the Internet.

However, the local demand has prompted at least one store to start selling them here - Motherswork, a one-stop shop for mothers and children.

The Straits Times reported that the prices of the dolls vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the level of intricacy involved.

Teacher Fiona Chia, 48, a doll collector since her teens, paid US$300 (S$370) and US$2,000 for her two reborn dolls.

These dolls do not just come in cookie cutter models, you can even have them custom made to resemble your child.

Priscilla Goh, 35, a teacher, paid US$3,500 to have hers fashioned to look like her nephew when he was a baby.

'He was a gorgeous chubby baby but having become a teen, has lost the chubbiness. I want to remember him as that cute baby,' she said.

It seems the high prices has not put off customers.

Ms Doris Lee, the general manager of Motherswork, told ST that two-thirds of the 300 dolls brought in last year have been 'adopted'.

Experts warn of dangers

Comfort in grief, or dangerous idea?

While some most customers buy the dolls for themselves or as gifts to fellow doll collectors, some are bought by parents as gifts to their daughters.

"We thought, as the family grows, with a second or even third baby, it would be really nice to let the older sibling learn to love and nurture a 'baby", Ms Lee said.

She added that as the dolls weight similar to a real baby and look extremely realistic, little girls and mums-to-be would love cuddling such dolls in their arms.

However, local experts ST spoke to cautioned against the use of such dolls for parents grieving the loss of their child.

In 2007, it was reported in the British press about the popularity of using reborn dolls as a method to deal with the pain of a loss of a child.

Some Western experts encourage the holding of reborn dolls as 'cuddle therapy' to comfort mothers in times of loneliness.

Dr Adrian Wang, a private practice doctor, said while reborn dolls are fine for collectors, using them to treat someone who has lost her baby may prolong the 'letting go' process and delay healing.

Dr Helen Chen, head of the Mental Wellness Service and the Postnatal Depression Intervention Programme at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said it becomes a problem if the process of grieving, which includes all the deep pain, distress, anger, denial and eventually acceptance, is disrupted.

She expressed concern that the woman may become obsessed with the inanimate object to the point she neglects her other responsibilities and becomes disconnected from reality.

This can lead to a psychotic break, she said.

yamadak@sph.com.sg

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