Last weekend I was invited to see the
play "Reborning" at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. I Googled the title, and what came up
first was not a description of the play, but numerous articles on the reborning
movement—the creation of intricately detailed baby dolls that are sold for up
to thousands of dollars to individuals or “parents” who care for them as if
they were real. They coddle them like infants, buy them clothes, take them out
in strollers and have birthday parties for them. Often the dolls are made in
the likeness of a lost loved one.
I had the same reaction as you’re
probably having now. Curiosity, discomfort and then the ick-factor set in, especially since my Internet sleuthing took me right to a video about reborning
enthusiasts in the TLC Network lineup, right there alongside the guy who
collects ketchup and the woman who bought over 4,000 outfits for her pet
But there's nothing like a night of
well-written live theater to take the bitter taste of reality TV out of my
mouth and show me I was missing the point of the movement entirely. And to
remind me that parents judging other parents was something I rallied against
but was all too easy to do.
The play centers around Kelly, a young,
spirited reborning artist and Emily, the older, professional woman who has
hired Kelly to craft a doll in the image of a baby daughter she lost years ago.
Their story plays out amidst the complicated relationship of Kelly and her
boyfriend Daizy and in the aftermath of Kelly’s drug-addicted past. The
couple are both art school graduates and question if they are living their
lives as true artists (Daizy designs and manufactures dildos, so prepare to see a
lot of fake penises on stage.)
I started to see these reborning artists as heroic, providing solace to their customers, many of them women who have lost children, suffered miscarriages or for other reasons cannot have children of their own.
But the heart of the story is Emily’s
heartbreaking desire to tangibly connect with her late infant daughter, even
if it’s in the form of a doll, and how she is relying on the reborning
artist’s skill to somehow bring her daughter back to life.
Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of art
is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” I started to see these
reborning artists as heroic, providing solace to their customers, many of them
women who have lost children, suffered miscarriages or for other reasons cannot
have children of their own. The dolls bring comfort to their “parents” and help
fill a void in their lives. To me, it illustrated how Kelly was the best kind
of artist, providing joy to another person through her art.
The writer, Zayd Dohrn, said he first
became aware of the reborning movement when his wife was pregnant with their
first child and they were looking for baby clothes online. “We stumbled across
numerous sites and forums for reborn dolls,” he says. “Buyers would testify how
the dolls comforted them. I was trying to balance my own fears and hopes about
becoming a father with my work as a writer and an artist, and I became
Even seeing that the dolls are so
clearly beneficial to some, the writer admits it’s easy to be put-off or
unsettled by them. “These dolls are realistic enough to be upsetting—beautiful and odd and grotesque all at once,” Dohrn says.
While I’m not ready to run out and buy
a reborn doll myself, I can see where the dolls and their artists can be
instrumental in “washing the dust of daily life off” for some. One reborn
artist in Florida talks about how crafting the dolls is cathartic not only for her customers but for her as
well. Eve Newsom, who has had seven miscarriages, says, “Not being able to have
children. And not having the resources, actually, to adopt. This was my
calling. And now it's my passion ... my reborns bring me a medium of joy and