Makers of Premature Baby Dolls Stitch Pro-Life Message

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - Instead of the words "fetus" and "miscarriage," Sandy Eding prefers to describe them as "babies who are born prematurely," even when speaking of pregnancies that lasted only a few weeks.

click to enlargeEding's pro-life message is manifested in each of the many dolls she makes by hand. She sees every pre-born baby as a human being to be loved and remembered, even if death arrives before birth.

Eding is one of several women creating accurate reproductions of premature babies, some of them only weeks into the gestation period, to provide an emotional outlet for women who have lost a child through no fault of their own.

If her work sounds strange, Eding said, "You really just can't understand unless you've been there."

Eding herself lost a child in her 20th week of pregnancy, and that's when she began designing cloth dolls that reflect different stages of premature gestation.

Eding said she came up with the idea because she wanted to show her family and friends her own preemie who "went to heaven at 20-weeks' gestation."

click to enlarge"It's just such a huge loss, and you have nothing to hold in your hands when you're supposed to be holding a baby in your hands," Eding said. "So, I think it's just especially therapeutic for somebody who lost a baby to be able to show other people what they've lost."

Eding said her dolls reflect her pro-life message, "but it's not like they're political tools or anything like that."

However, the public reaction to her dolls hasn't always been kind, Eding said. She said people who can't relate to her lifelike dolls call her a "sicko and a capitalist making money off of people's pain."

But Eding said she disregards the negative comments because her mission is to make the dolls for "people who do understand."

Two years and 350 dolls later, Eding said she's having trouble keeping up with the influx of requests from parents to replicate, and often memorialize, a lost child. Customers may choose the fabric color, but other than that, the design is up to Eding. The dolls are more symbolic (soft and pretty) than biologically accurate.

Eding, who lives in Michigan, stitches her 'Priceless Preemies' when she's not home-schooling her five children. The doll prices start at $60 and go as high as $120.

And Eding is not the only doll-maker in this unique line of business.

Rebecca Bright, owner of, designed her first premature baby doll five years ago to serve as a mannequin for the 'preemie' clothing typically used in hospitals.

Today, she fulfills orders from "all over the world" for her custom-made dolls.

"A lot of my dolls are made for preemie mothers who have lost babies," Bright said. "It's a way to remember that child and it's also very healing and therapeutic for the parents."

click to enlargeBright's dolls range in size from the three- to four-inch "Fetal Sculpted Doll" up to the one-pound "NICU (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit) Preemie," complete with "mock medical equipment to bring greater realism."

"A lot of parents that order that particular item (neo-natal intensive care unit) do have babies in intensive care," Bright said. "A lot of people that they want to share that experience with have never seen a baby in intensive care."

Bright said hospitals also request the NICU Preemie doll specifically for the siblings of babies born prematurely. She explained that many young children are banned from neo-natal intensive care units, so the NICU doll allows those siblings to interact with the newborn from a distance.

But Dr. Timothy A. Sisemore, an associate professor at the Atlanta-based Psychological Studies Institute, doesn't believe dolls are the best way to teach older children about premature birth. "Take them to a neo-natal intensive care unit," he suggested.

Some of those purchasing Bright's dolls are parents who lost their babies over twenty years ago, she said.

"It's just something that hasn't been available and is now available," Bright said of her unique dolls. "Mothers want them. They want to remember the children that they lost."

But Dr. Sisemore said the typical grieving period lasts one to two years for adults, not twenty years.

"Beyond getting closure or educating a sibling," Sisemore said, "I can't think of [the dolls] as really something I would ever care to do."

Niche market

Donna Moore, owner of Downi Creations, Inc., designs and retails eight unique dolls that display "all of the characteristics of a child with Down Syndrome."

Aside from designing the first ever doll that children with Down Syndrome could identify with, Moore said she wanted them to be used as teaching tools in hospitals and doctors'offices.

"If a mother is expecting a child with Down Syndrome, it's an excellent way for the Ob/Gyn to introduce Down Syndrome to the parents," Moore said. "Also, if there is a sibling at home, I think they're excellent for the parents to go ahead and purchase a doll for the siblings to teach them about what their newborn brother or sister is going to be like."

Sisemore said he agrees with the concept of a Down Syndrome doll as a teaching device for expectant mothers. However, he questioned its attractiveness to a six- or seven-year-old Down Syndrome child.

"I would be curious that if a Down's kid went to...Toys 'R' Us and saw a Down's doll and a regular baby doll, which one would they choose," Sisemore said. "Would they want to identify with that difference?"

Sisemore said some children with Down Syndrome may choose to identify with regular dolls, thinking, "Hey, I may be a little different than this doll, but I'm a person too." For children identifying with the Down Syndrome doll, "If the kid's initiating it, yeah, that's pretty cool," Sisemore said.

E-mail a news tip to Michael L. Betsch.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.