When Shari, a mom of two from Missouri and owner of Stitched_By_Shari, received a request for a crocheted a doll that mimics giving birth, she thought the request was a little odd. But Shari, always up for a challenge, decided to record the process of making the unusual doll for TikTok. After posting the video in fall 2021, interest in the dolls skyrocketed, with some subsequent videos topping 12 million views.
But not everyone has been thrilled with the videos of little dolls made of yarn birthing babies. The depiction of birth is closer to real life than some viewers would like to see in their TikTok feed, and others find it downright weird. In her videos, Shari, who prefers to keep her last name anonymous for privacy reasons, pulls hand-crocheted babies out of their moms' bellies, along with crocheted umbilical cords and placentas. The crocheted newborns can then latch onto their mother's breast to nurse, using a tiny snap button.
Despite receiving critical comments early on, Shari kept making TikTok videos using her creations. Instead of just explaining how the dolls work, she started incorporating real birth stories into her videos. In one based on her sister's birth experience, a crochet mom hemorrhaged red yarn. In another, a doll delivered triplets — two vaginally and one by C-section. Because Shari customizes her dolls, another birth story portrayed a woman who got pregnant while using an intrauterine device (IUD). In this story, Shari removed a tiny, crocheted IUD from the pregnant mom's belly.
While Shari says most of the comments she receives are positive, in one video she answered a question she's been asked in a variety of different ways: "[Are you] a deranged psychotic sicko?" Shari's answer was a definitive "no."
To date, most orders for her birthing dolls have come from doulas and midwives to use for educational purposes. Mothers have also ordered dolls to teach their children about the birthing process in a hands-on way. Shari tells Yahoo Life she's glad to be able to make dolls that show birth as it really happens. In fact, she wishes she'd had a doll like this when she was growing up. "I had a pregnant Barbie with a magnetic belly that came off," she shares. "I thought that's how babies were born."
Recently, Shari received an order from a mother whose daughter is blind and needs a tactile aid to help her understand the process of childbirth. Shari has also received orders from mothers who want pregnant dolls that look like themselves. She not only varies the skin tone and hair style of her dolls, but has stitched on tattoos and currently has orders for a doll with a prosthetic leg and one with two missing fingers. Without this type of personalization, these mothers would never see themselves represented elsewhere.
The designer of the pattern for the birthing dolls, Laura Sutcliffe at Laura Loves Crochet, tells Yahoo Life she came up with the idea when she was processing her own traumatic birth. "I designed it with the intention of showing my daughter the process of childbirth in a straight-forward non-scary way," says Sutcliffe. "I don't believe in telling children storks deliver babies, and have always answered my daughter's questions honestly ... I hoped sharing this design would help other people with answering these questions, too." To date, Laura has sold her pattern over 2,000 times. Dolls using the pattern are being used all over the world, including in remote parts of Africa to educate girls about childbirth.
Laura has also received negative comments about her pattern, some of which she describes as "personally abusive." Like Shari, she mostly ignores and dismisses these remarks because she recognizes the value of the dolls in empowering women and promoting education. Both stress there's nothing sexual about the doll in any way.
Shari says she appreciates all the positive comments she gets. "When someone takes the time to say, 'You're awesome,' it makes up for all the hurtful comments," she explains. She also says she feels like when someone leaves a negative comment "the joke's on them." After all, the more comments she gets, the more the TikTok algorithm pushes her videos out to more people.
Michele Cohen, a doula at Savor it Studios, has not yet used a pregnancy doll with her clients but says she loves the idea. "The more accurate representations we have for the process of birth, the more we can normalize and celebrate what the human body goes through to bring a baby into the world," Cohen says. "If we teach about birth, breast (or chest) feeding and postpartum from an early age, we can aim to minimize the fear of birth and destigmatize [the natural process]."
Although demand for birthing dolls is high, they're not easy to come by. Because of the level of detail involved and the stress on her hands, it takes Shari about two weeks to make a single doll. She often has "yarn burn" on her hands because the stitches need to be pulled very tightly over her fingers to hold their shape. Shari's children are yet to own a birthing doll, although she says if she decides to have another child, she'll make one for them then to help explain how the baby will be born.
The cost of the dolls, which starts at $325, also puts them out of reach for many. Shari says early on, she received comments saying she wouldn't sell any dolls at that price, but the busy crocheter currently has a two-month waitlist. While Sutcliffe does not sell finished dolls because they are so time-consuming, she thinks Shari is charging a fair price, given the cost of materials and the fact that a doll can take hours to make. The first doll Shari made took 30 hours, although as she has gotten faster she can now make a basic mother and baby set in about 11.
Shari acknowledges her dolls aren't for everyone and hopes that anyone who doesn't like them will "just keep scrolling." For those who like the dolls but think they're too expensive, Shari reminds the pattern can be purchased for under $5. While a complicated pattern, Shari adds she taught herself to crochet by watching YouTube videos just three years ago, and others can do the same ... with enough practice.
For now, Shari is stunned by the attention her birthing dolls have received and thrilled that a customer came to her last year with the wild idea to make one. She says she's is open to making any "crazy, zany order," including crocheting children's artwork into 3-D creations and crocheting dolls that look just like their owner.
Shari says she feels lucky that sales from her crocheting business continue to allow her to stay home with her two young children. And, she's appreciative of the opportunity to empower women and play a small role in childbirth education thanks to the interest in her dolls, which isn't slowing down anytime soon.
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