Children of (postmodern) women

reborns1We talk about “ghosts” quite a bit at this blog, by which we mean religious issues that are hiding, uncovered, in mainstream news stories.

Well, here’s a great one that Rod “crunchy con” Dreher spotted the other day.

To understand this one, if helps to be familiar with a great, great novel called “The Children of Men” by the mystery master P.D. James.

No! Not the movie, which strips almost all of the stunning religious imagery out of this masterpiece and, I would argue, the doctrinal theme that unites its vision of life in the ultimate, to quote the late Pope John Paul II, “Culture of Death.”

Here’s Rod’s lede to set the scene:

In P.D. James’ dystopian novel “The Children of Men,” desperate and deranged women in a barren world have taken to treating dolls as if they were real children. Guess what? American women are already doing it.

This brings us to the actual mainstream news report, (click here for page with video) here in the greater Washington, D.C., area:

Many people like to stop and play with newborn babies, but now some adult women are playing house with fake babies. Some women are even going as far as taking day trips with the fake babies to the park, out to eat, and even hosting birthday parties for them.

Forty-nine-year-old Linda is married with no children of her own. Now, she says she feels like a mother because she has Reborns — dolls made to look and feel like the real thing. … These women are paying big bucks for this hobby, from $100 to a few thousand dollars. For Reborn owner Lachelle Moore, the fake babies fill a void.

“What’s so wonderful about Reborns is that, um, they’re forever babies,” said Moore, who has grown children and grandchildren. “There’s no college tuition, no dirty diapers … just the good part of motherhood,” she added.

In her Kansas City home, Moore even has an elaborate room for the dolls. She organizes birthday parties, bakes a cake and even invites guests.

Psychologists say there could be a problem if and when these women stop interacting socially with others in their life.

It his usual take-no-prisoners style, Dreher calls these women “Drag Mommies.”

What interests me are the religious and moral ghosts lingering in the background, linked to marriage, family, fidelity and, yes, sacraments.

Ah, but are any of these women baptizing these babies? Taking them to Communion? And, if so, who is agreeing to do these rites? What churches? Would it be cruel to deny women this part of their imaginary “relationship”?

Or is this something that is taking place totally outside of religious sanctuaries? Is that the point? Have the rites been secularized, somehow, to fit into the do-it-yourself brand of faith that dominates what I call “OprahAmerica”?

“Reborns.” Forever babies.

Have these babies been born again?

Photo: From that homepage.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Travis Mamone

    Yeah, I saw that video. It’s like a baby version of “Lars and the Real Girl.”

    Which brings me to the religion issue. In “…the Real Girl,” Lars took ‘Bianca’ to church, and after a while the congregation warmed up to her. Would that happen in real life? You never know.

    And while I agree with Dreher about supporting small businesses, his overall tone is too “I’m right, you’re wrong, get used to it” for me.

  • Ellyn

    Unborns would be a more appropriate name. And they – and their pitiable owners – creep me out.

    I work in a Church office. The day someone calls about ‘baptizing’ one of these dolls is the day I retire. Or just go right out my window. And trends being what they are, I should probably call the maintenance man now to make sure that window is operating properly.

  • Chris M

    “just the good part of motherhood”

    I wonder if she’s be ok with her husband purchasing something similar so he only had to deal with “the good part of married life”.

  • tmatt

    Chris M:

    Think journalism on this, please. What do you think of THE STORY ITSELF? Is there a valid religion angle here? Do you see the ghost?

  • Peggy

    tmatt: While you note the religious angles, good points, I can’t help but to wonder about the psychological angle. This sort of thing might have been enough to get some one committed or considered seriously mentally ill not too long ago.

    I agree it says something about marriage and motherhood. What regrets do these women have? Do they wish they had married younger? Tried to have children younger? Do they fantasize about a baby, but are not willing to accept the reality of parenthood? What do their pastors think of this–if they go to church/synagogue, etc.? I think of so many children not of infancy who could be adopted by these older women. [This seems to be an extension of older couples adopting infants--abroad mostly, often 2nd marriages, young wife; or grandchildren aren't coming soon enough--delayed marriage of their own kids.]

  • Ellyn

    The ‘ghost’ is definitely there. As it should be in most stories of disordered affections.

  • Brian L

    Re: Chris M @ 3…

    “I don’ care who ya’ are…’at’s funny.” –Larry the Cable Guy

  • Margaret

    The religion ghost is also implicitly there because an aspect of “worship” is what you spend your time doing. Spending your time playing with or caring for a doll that looks and feels like a real baby is time spent away from interacting with real humans who are made in the image of God and, unless these women are praying while they hold their dolls, they are spending time away from worship of God.

  • Perpetua

    Hi Terry,
    I don’t know the ghost is that you are seeing. I am worried that for some of these women this is about miscarriages and abortions they had and these are “reborns” because these dolls are their attempts to imagine the child born alive.

  • Mary Sue

    There’s no religion angle towards family. Unless you want to argue that the guys who purchased the statue of Mary Jane in a thong doing Spider-Man’s laundry (yes, it exists) were buying it as a substitute for a wife (and why can’t Spider-Man do his own laundry? Is he not an enlightened child of the New Millennium?).

    It’s a collector thing, and part of the culture that demands we consume more and more to make ourselves happy, just like people who can put together entire outfits branded with Harley Davidson or collect entire runs of comic books (mea culpa). So, unless you want to argue that this kind of blatant consumerisim is counter-faith-of-choice, you’re not getting far.

  • Travis

    It does have a ghost posibility, but we won’t see that religion angle unless Reborns become mainstream (which I hope won’t happen). Then we’ll see all the reports and debates about how the Church responds.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Another religion angle is the quote about “filling a void.” These women seem to be looking for meaning in their life, which they have apparently narrowly defined as motherhood.

    One aspect of religion is the intergenerational connection. Because our society is more mobile, even parents with children don’t necessarily have that opportunity any more. I wonder how many women buying these dolls are involved in the lives of younger women through their church or another community? Not many I bet.

  • Joel

    Wow, and I thought the Cabbage Patch fad was over the top!

    The picture of a pseudo-baby in a baptismal gown does bring up the question of sacraments. It’s also on the dealer’s website, so they must have had something int he back of their minds when they dressed the model that way.

    I also see a possible ghost in the question of what is and is not a person. Do the women who buy these imbue them psychologically with personalities, and if so, how does the soul or spirit come into play?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It would be interesting to tie this story in with the recent statement from one of the researchers most responsible for THE PILL. (Found, not surprisingly, mostly on Catholic internet sites and little elsewhere.) He now apparently very much regrets the success of his research. Why? Because he is convinced that the complete separation of sex from reproduction it has caused is leading to the demographic demise of those countries and cultures that adopt this anti-natal mentality. He cites particularly his own country of Austria which is now in almost total demographic collapse.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Note–you can find the full story of Austrian chemist and co-creator of the pill, Carl Djerassi, and his “mea culpa” on “The Deacon’s Bench” site.

  • Stoo

    Anyone else look at that pic and think “uncanny valley?”

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  • Byrd

    I’m intrigued that Joel (and I wonder if others saw it this way also) see the doll in the photo as wearing a baptismal gown. That could be a different kind of ghost that not everyone sees or that is a matter of personal perception.

    As a mother of boys and a girl, I see the doll as just dressed up in a lacy dress such as my daughter wore a few times when she was an infant. Our family christening gown (from my great-grandfather) which our sons and daughter all wore looks quite different. It could be that I’m out of touch with modern baptismal wear. But it still just looks like a lacy dress with no religious overtones, so the thought that some would want to have a doll baptized never occurred to me until reading the comments.

    Otoh, the psychology of this situation is troubling.

  • dalea

    This is doll collecting, a hobby that has been around for centuries. One of the creepiest of the antique dolls is the Brue. They date from the 1860′s onward to 1900. Brues are the size of a four year old girl and have human hair. They are very much indistinguishable from a human child at a distance.

    So, I don’t see this as a new phenomena. 35 years ago the doll collectors were just as strange and creepy as the ones today.