Catherine Jacobs makes fetus dolls for a living. Oh, she calls them something different -- micro-preemies. But they're fetus dolls, all right. She makes them out of cloth or resin, starting at three weeks' gestation and going up to 36 weeks, and charges up to $190 for the little critters. She also sells clothes and baskets to go with them -- even fake incubators.
It's more than a little bit creepy.
Jacobs isn't subtle about her pro-life beliefs. Atop her Web site (www.godslittleones.com) reads "U.S. abortion rate: 1.3 million every year. ... This site is dedicated to these little Americans." But pro-lifery isn't her only motivation for sewing baby fetus dolls. Jacobs had a miscarriage. She decided making the dolls would help women with miscarriages grieve. So she began selling them.
"I create these life-size portraits to celebrate the lives of these little ones, no matter how small and young they are," she explained via email.
And Jacobs isn't alone. Sandy Eding, of Zeeland, Mich., is another maker of fetal merchandise (www.macatawa.org/~eding/). Eding calls her creations bereavement dolls, made to help grieving parents.
"I believe they are very helpful to the healing process," said Eding, through email. "While I believe it is not good either to push away grieving for a loss, or to submerge oneself in it too much, I think having something to hold while adjusting to the loss can be very helpful."
In the 17 months she's been in business, Eding has sold 256 dolls. Prices range from $40 to $120, beginning at 11 weeks' gestation and going up to 40 weeks, and they're made according to your baby's specifications-heck, she'll even put a shunt in the doll if you provide it. The baby-fetus dolls color choices include ecru, flesh, tan, toast, camel and bark.
I purchased a toast-colored, 12-week fetus, with face -- another option. The wrinkled creature looked just like a small doll, complete with long, squirmy arms and legs. It came curled up in the fetal position, wearing a diaper and hat, bundled in a blanket. And it's filled with sand, so it's heavier than it looks. Eding calls that the "the feel-real weight."
It gave me the willies.
I took the inanimate fetus over to Planned Parenthood to get a reaction from a pro-choice organization that deals with reproductive issues on a daily basis. They were unaware of this market for sand-filled critters, and, well, they got the willies, too.
Executive Director Denise Fowler was taken aback when she saw my hand-sewn fetus. She was quick to point out that if this helps someone grieve, then she's no one to judge. But the best adjective she could find to describe the little fetus was "interesting."
"I've worked in this field since 1979," she said. "I have worked in abortion clinics, I've worked with women who have had abortions. I've worked with women who have had children and adopted them out. I've worked with thousands of women who had babies, and they were just 'failure-to-thrive.' I've worked with women who had miscarriages, who wanted a child or didn't want a child, but had a miscarriage. And everyone has a different way of dealing with grief. Whether it's a healthy way of dealing with it, I think that's probably a personal bias or perspective."
Fowler pointed out that since she has never lost a child, and she isn't a counselor, she may not be in a position to judge. So I called a grief counselor.
Christine Needham, a marriage and family therapist and registered nurse, suggested that counseling would be more helpful to those grieving than purchasing a fetal replica of their deceased child.
"I would be concerned with a doll or something like that that isolates," Needham said. "One healthy way to deal with grief is in group or individual counseling. That way you're actively involved in the healing process. (The doll) may actually intensify the grief, if you think about it. You're looking at a constant reminder -- it wasn't a very happy time. That would be my feeling on it."
For more fetal merchandise, see www.preemie-babies.com and www.midwiferytoday.com/loves/alliealden.html.