An Australian woman has revealed how becoming a 'mother' to a set of ultra realistic dolls helped cure her chronic illness and now she's trying to raise awareness for the form of therapy.
In an essay written for lifestyle site Mamamia, Patrizia Bartolomei explained that her life and health went downhill after she lost contact with her three sons, almost 20 years ago.
"I grieve for my kids. They're not dead, but I grieve for them because I can't talk to them… I don't know what's going on in their lives," she wrote.
"I couldn't cope. I kept crying all the time. I would just cry and cry and cry."
Bartolomei wrote that she struggled with depression and fibromyalgia, and was placed on 15 medications by her increasingly helpless psychologist.
"[Then] three years ago, I got so desperate that one day I just typed 'realistic-looking baby dolls' into Google and [Reborn doll artist] Annette Kravchenko's videos popped up," she wrote.
"I spent hours and hours looking at her tutorials and her babies that looked so real."
Bartolomei sought out an Australian artist who created 'reborn dolls', which are dolls created to resemble a human infant with as much realism as possible.
"The minute she put that baby doll in my arms I just burst into tears. It gave me a nurturing feeling, the feeling a mother gets when she holds her newborn."
Now Bartolomei "has quite a few babies" and she takes her dolls everywhere she goes, complete with a pram and car seat.
"It's changed my life completely. I'm down to three medications. Even my GP can't believe it," she revealed.
"Just because I'm 64 and I have a pram and I have a therapy baby, it doesn't mean I'm crazy.
"When I'm out with one of my babies, most of the time, people think she's real. But my psychologist said to me, 'Don't fool people, because it's not right'.
"If people say, 'Oh, your baby looks gorgeous,' I always say, 'Thank you. She's my therapy baby'."
As an advocate for the form of therapy, Bartolomei has a YouTube channel where she documents her life and a Facebook support group for other 'reborners'.
"There's about 20 of us and we meet up every three weeks," she explained. "I want people to be able to find a certain amount of peace, like I have."
There are several online retailers of reborn dolls in New Zealand and similar online support groups for Kiwi 'reborners'.