Lifelike babies that are just for cuddling
[gallery] They don't cry and don't need changing or feeding but Suzanne-Lewis dolls are proving popular with ladies who want to cuddle a baby. CATHY SPENCER reports
As 12-year-old Ellie Morris cuddles the bundle in her arms she can't help but smile, like any other new mother.
However, luckily the Willenhall school girl won't have to miss any classes to look after her new baby, as the infant is actually made of vinyl.
Ellie is just one of the thousands of customers who are snapping up the lifelike Reborn dolls from the Suzanne-Lewis shop in Cannock.
The business was started six years ago by Suzanne Wood, who had launched a baby shop in Brownhills.
It was in September when she moved to her new site in Walsall Road, Cannock, and her shop is filled with dozens of the dolls as well as specially made accessories.
"Over the years I have seen how the Reborn babies have helped make a lot of people happy," she says.
"But when we are seen out in the street with our dolls we can get a lot of abuse as people don't understand – why is it fine for a man to collect matchbox cars, but not for us to have dolls?"
Suzanne says women who buy the dolls don't tend to push them in prams but get enjoyment from cuddling them.
"One customer was diagnosed with cancer and she just wanted something to cuddle, to give her some comfort," says Suzanne.
"There are women who have a reborn after they have lost babies – they don't get the doll to replace the baby but to help with the grief.
"When a woman holds a baby it releases oxytocin in the brain which makes people happy and relaxed. Ask anyone who holds a baby how they feel and they forget their worries and it makes them feel good."
Suzanne says she has always loved dolls.
"I was the youngest of four and my eldest sister Margaret used to buy dolls for me," she says.
"When I was 11 I moved on to porcelain dolls and Ashton Drake collectable dolls. It wasn't long before I came across the Reborn dolls."
Suzanne opened a baby shop in Brownhills in 2005 after her father, Lewis, and mother Joyce passed away, leaving her some money.
"The first thing I did was open a baby shop – I had cribs and prams in the shop and used the Reborn dolls as models in them for demonstration purposes," says Suzanne, 46.
"It wasn't long before people started asking me about the dolls."
Suzanne, who grew up in Aldridge, says Reborn dolls are well-known.
"People have them for lots of reasons – the dolls helped me get over losing my mum," she says.
"One lady bought one for her daughter's 21st birthday and it will be kept as a family heirloom.
"We had one 14-year-old girl brought into the shop by her father as she was desperate for a baby."
Suzanne who has two sons – Nathan, 19, and Daniel, 17 says people often think there is something wrong with a woman who likes dolls.
"Earlier this year I went on the TV show Daybreak and they sat me on the couch next to a psychiatrist – luckily the psychiatrist said it was natural to want to hold a baby," she says.
"It is amazing to see how people with dementia and Alzheimer's are helped by holding the dolls – with dementia people can revert back to their childhood, so having a doll helps them cope with that.
"Once a month we have a dolly club where customers can bring along their Reborns, have a coffee and talk openly about their interest without being judged."
The dolls, which range from £120 to £500, take hours to create and each one is unique. A kit is made by sculpting a baby's arms, legs and head out of clay and then it is used as a mould to make the doll out of vinyl. The kits are fitted together and eye colour, skin colour and hairis chosen.
The painting takes several hours as it can take 80 coats of paint, and each one has to be heat set in an oven.
It takes us around two weeks to make each baby and every one of them is unique.
Suzanne holds painting classes where she will teach people how to create their perfect baby.
"There are women who bring in photos of their children when they were babies and they want them reconstructed," she says.
"The dolls are made to feel like they weigh around 8lb and the neck is floppy and needs supporting, just like with a baby.
"Christmas is a very busy time for us and at the moment we are selling around three babies a day.
"However, the time it takes to make one means we don't make much money out of each doll – I do it because I have a passion for it, not because I want to get rich."
Young Ellie Morris says she has been after a Reborn for two years and saved up her money to afford one, which she has named Charlie.
"I like that they look and feel real, it is nice to buy different clothes for Charlie for the day and night, and it is great to cuddle him in the evening while I'm watching TV," says Ellie.
"My friends think it is really nice and I researched it a lot on the internet, looking at different pictures until I found one I liked.
"It isn't just me who benefits from having Charlie as my nan is keen to start knitting for a baby again, and now she can knit as much as she wants."
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