A WOMAN who suffered a traumatic miscarriage is now "mum" to five lifelike baby dolls – and says they are helping her through her grief.
Toni Daly, 25, suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks in June 2017 and, after she and her ex-partner split, she went through the trauma alone.
Trying to pretend the miscarriage never happened, she started having "phantom pregnancies" in March 2020 – where her body would trick her into thinking she was expecting.
She experienced symptoms of nausea, tender breasts and even felt something "moving inside her", she claims.
Toni didn't go to the doctors but spoke through he issues with a therapist.
And she then decided to buy a baby doll for comfort and purchased her first reborn – a handmade lifelike doll resembling an infant – who she named Ben in June 2020 for £150.
She claims connecting with the doll instantly alleviated her symptoms and improved her anxiety and depression.
Toni decided to expand her family and now she has a collection of five 'children' – worth £1k.
She is "mum" to baby Ben, two weeks, Hazel, four weeks, Emmanuela, one, Lucas, a memorial babe, and Thalia, two weeks.
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Toni dresses, feeds and takes her "babies" out in a pram and says she's been labelled "crazy" by trolls online – but has vowed to carry on mothering her dolls.
She will often play along if onlookers ask how much her tots weighed at birth or how old they are and she says strangers are shocked to find out they aren't real.
Toni, a dog walker, from Tower Hamlets, London, said: "I went through a miscarriage in 2017 and my way of dealing with it was by pretending it didn't happen.
"I ended up finding it didn't help and my mental health worsened in the first lockdown.
"I started having phantom pregnancies and experienced morning sickness, tender breasts and I felt like something was moving inside of me.
"It was really tough especially after going through child loss.
"I purchased my first reborn 'newborn' doll off an artist on Facebook for £150 and when I held him, these symptoms would slowly go away.
"He helped me feel happier and with my anxiety and depression."
Toni quickly became obsessed and grew her reborn family – buying Hazel in February 2021, another newborn, Emmanuela, a one-year-old, in August 2021, Lucas, a premature silicon – who she would've named the child she lost – and Thalia, a premature silicon doll who is roughly 25 weeks.
She painted Hazel and Emma herself after buying them blank – Hazel has 'rooted hair' and Lucas fits in the palm of her hand.
She said: "The dolls soothe me and if I ever get emotional about the miscarriage I can hold Lucas to my chest.
"I like dressing them up in different outfits – I buy baby clothes from Pep&Co from Poundland and off Facebook marketplace.
"I enjoy cuddling them and watching movies together.
"I have a buggy and a carrier that I take them out in and the majority of people think they are real.
"People will ask how was the delivery how much did they weigh.
"Depending on my confidence, I will play along.
"Once in a cafe someone once asked me how old Hazel was, I said: 'Would you believe me if I told you she was a doll?' "The woman was amazed and everyone was really nice and interested – people even took photographs."
In the virtual world, Toni doesn't receive the same reaction and trolls often call her crazy – and she claims one even told her she should kill herself.
She added: "I had to take a break from social media because it got too much.
"They said I was taking things away from real parents and that I should kill myself.
"That's not the case."
Despite the hate, Toni has continued to document her life with the dolls – including nappy changes, feeding and bath time for the two silicone dolls, Lucas and Thalia.
"Some people have been bashed for using real baby formula milk but I just use powdered semi-skimmed milk so it doesn't go to waste," she said.
"I live in a one bedroom flat and I have one next to me in a crib and the others have a futon in the corner of my room.
"They bring me so much comfort – it's the same feeling as when you hold a real sleeping baby.
"They're weighted which means they help anxiety in the same way as a weighted blanket – it's called deep pressure therapy – a form of therapy that relaxes the nervous system."
Since starting her reborn family, Toni met her boyfriend in 2017 and they hope one day to start a real family.
She said: "He supports me in all of this and he helped me to buy Ben, Hazel and Emma.
"It wouldn't be fair to start a family now – I live in a one bedroom flat and we hardly have the funds to look after ourselves."
Toni added there are many reasons women have reborn dolls.
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She said: "There are so many reasons women have the dolls. It could be that someone has lost a child or can't have children of their own.
"It can even be for the purpose of art as they are so well crafted. I'm not hurting anyone by having my dolls."
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