Meet the couple who are “mom” and “dad” to 13 fake babies – and change their diapers, take them out in a pram and say it is preparing them for parenthood.
Jess Ellis, 27, started collecting reborn dolls – realistic dolls modeled on infants – in May 2020 after feeling “lonely” during the pandemic and coming across them online.
She bought her first doll, Rebecca, a one-month-old baby girl, for £250 to keep her company and became obsessed growing her brood.
Next came Sam, a newborn, for £560 in November 2020 – followed by June, a one-month-old, Sam, a newborn, Brooklyn, an eight-month-old, Manuela, a newborn, Zain, a three-month-old, Lilly, a newborn, Annalese, a newborn, Aria, a newborn, Cookie, who is premature, Charlie, a one-year-old, Pippa, also one, and June, four.
In total, Jess has spent £6k buying her 13-strong collection – with her most expensive addition, Cookie, a premature baby-size girl, costing £1.7k.
Jess says her fiancé, Avery Raassen, 33, a pastry chef, is “incredibly supportive” of her passion and even helps to get the ‘babies’ dressed and change their nappies.
The pair would love a real child of their own one day but for now the reborn dolls are preparing them for parenthood.
Jess, an HR business partner, from Plaistow, East London, said: “I have always loved babies – there is something very calming about holding a baby.
“We have had a few babies in my family – I have a goddaughter and that was always my favorite stage when someone had a baby – being able to hold a reborn is really special.
“I love looking at them and yes, sometimes you can look very quickly and fool yourself into thinking they are real.
“It is very therapeutic holding them, if I have got stressed or anxious it is very calming.
“In some ways, they help prepare you for being a parent.
“My fiancé had never changed a diaper or held a baby until I introduced him to reborns, and so I made him change one of them which definitely increased his confidence for changing and holding a real baby.
“I also recognize that these are not real babies and I often leave them in places you definitely should not leave a real baby – like a table or sofa.”
During the pandemic, Jess was anxious to leave the house in case she contracted covid and taking her dolls for a walk around the local park helped get her outside.
Jess said: “I do take them out in the pram – just for walks around the local park.
“During the pandemic I became very, very anxious about leaving the house and so my fiancé actually bought the pram for me to encourage me to go outside.
“It worked really well and after a few months, I was able to go outside on my own without the pram as well.
“I still take them out occasionally in it because it’s really fun to push a pram around.”
Jess says the pair would “love a baby in the future” but both recognize it is a huge responsibility and one they are not ready for just yet.
She said: “In a way, they are a placebo to help with baby fever. I do change them quite a lot.
“I find it a bonding experience which sounds strange to say.
“My favourite doll at the moment is called Aria – she is my newest.
“When I was scrolling through Facebook and saw her artist put the picture up, I thought she was a real baby.
“I often keep her in her car seat because that is where I think she looks the most realistic.
“I look at her and think she is real – this is another reason I keep her in her car seat because it looks like I have just brought her home from the hospital – she is gorgeous.”
Jess said she has received mixed responses from her family and friends with some people not understanding what she loves about the dolls.
She said: “My mom, Nicky, 60 was very supportive, she has been lovely and even took us to a doll show.
“She is really interested in the art side and how they are made.
“My dad, Andrew, 55, thinks it is very bizarre and will tell me that, but he is also proud of me for doing something I enjoy and not being ashamed to talk about it.
“I have had it several times where I have taken them out for a walk and people have mistaken them for real babies.
“My reaction depends on whether I am in a hurry or not. If I am rushing and they complement how cute they are I will say ‘thank you’.
“But if I have more time I will explain how they are dolls and people are usually really interested.”
Jess has turned her passion into a part-time money-maker and started creating and selling reborn dolls online to “give back” to the reborn community.
Jess said it roughly takes around three weeks, on and off to create a doll and has earned £2000 since she started four months ago.
She said: “I started making them four months ago, I have been thinking about it for a while.
“I wanted to see if I could create quite life-like ones – I got a kit where they send everything you need to make one doll.
“It was awful, but I had so much fun doing it, I stripped it and re-painted it.
“I did a giveaway of that doll – it was a nice way for me to give back to the community and give back to the people who can’t afford these dolls.
“I wouldn’t say my work is fantastic, but I have been practicing a lot and I have made around 14 dolls so far and sold them for under £200 each.”
Avery, said: “I love having the reborn babies around the house.
“They have helped me learn how to hold a real baby and change their nappies.
“We would both love a child of our own in the future but for now these dolls help us prepare for parenthood.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker