It’s December, so I want Christmas stories.
I invited ABC Radio Sydney listeners to tell me about the Christmas presents they wanted so badly in their youth.
From the stories of ponies denied, fashion requests unfulfilled and sad substitutes for scooters and dragster bikes, a figure emerged.
It was shaped like a baby and miraculously could do some things that babies did.
The Baby Alive doll was introduced to the shelves in 1973.
It could eat packet foods mixed with water that were fed to it from a spoon.
It came with a bottle, it dirtied nappies, and one iteration produced vomit.
For some, receiving a Baby Alive was just as traumatic as not getting one.
These are true stories texted to ABC Radio Sydney.
I still remember getting a beloved Baby Alive over 45 years ago, waking up so early, Santa had put her in my stocking before 5am. I was so delighted and always fascinated at the noise she made when her moving mouth sucked on her water bottle. My poor sister found the robotic sound disturbing.
In 1976, Baby Alive was so popular that all the shops ran out in the days leading up to Christmas. The advertising campaign was phenomenal. My four-year-old son told me that he wanted a Baby Alive for Christmas and sadly I could not find one anywhere. I was a single mum but I was prepared to pay the money because his desire was so strong. We were both so incredibly disappointed. After Christmas I really had to spend the money on essentials. I will always remember Baby Alive and will always feel a little guilty.
Not all baby love
Here’s a few Stephen King could use:
My younger brother and I would often terrorise my younger still sister when she had her Baby Alive doll. We would reverse the flow and put the mock food in the weirdly chewing mouth and eject it as projectile vomit by flushing the tube from the bottom end with the baby bottle. #brotherly love
My sister didn’t get a Baby Alive so she dressed up a 2kg bag of potatoes, she felt the weight approximate the feel of a baby. Crunch time came when Mum cooked the bag of potatoes one evening. My sister confronted my Mum while she was conversing with a tradie at the front door by saying, “I can’t believe you cooked my baby!”
I did get a Baby Alive but took her into the bath with me (not realising she was electrical). Dad tried to fix it, but I was there when he scalped her to get to the electrics and I have never been the same.
Guilt, pain, anger and jealousy
My neighbour had a Baby Alive and I was very envious. I made my regular doll into a Baby Alive with a nail through her mouth and bum. I only fed her water and after a while she not only weed but also pooed green algae. Her legs looked a bit odd as she had an internal algae growth that made her look bruised but I loved her nonetheless.
Add me to the Baby Alive statistics. Not to be put off I cut a hole in my bride doll’s mouth, fed her Weetbix, which festered inside with no other end.
There’s the guilt no parent notices — the child feeling guilty because they can’t love their gift.
I got a Baby Alive when I was five and felt so guilty because I found her completely disappointing. The food went straight through, the nappy was ineffective. It was hard and not nice to cuddle.
I worked in a toy shop. Unfortunately Baby Alive did not evacuate efficiently unless given enough fluids. They were all returned two weeks post Christmas smelling disgusting with all the food clogged up inside.
I’m imagining a whole department at Santa’s workshop to deal with this.
Affected the whole family
We started to understand the real impact of this doll with texts like below.
Here’s a mother still shocked at her actions:
I bought a Baby Alive doll for my daughter back in the mid-1970s. Baby Alive needed a dummy in her mouth so she wouldn’t cry. We were on the night train, in a six-seat compartment travelling north. Everyone was asleep when Baby Alive’s dummy came out and she started to cry, waaah, waah, waaah. I couldn’t find the dummy so in the dark I stuck a bobby pin into Baby Alive’s mouth to shut her up.
It’s with people for life:
I desperately wanted a Baby Alive and over quite a few years it was always on the top of my Christmas list. My mum wouldn’t allow it as she said it would make a mess. Twenty years later when we had our first baby, my mother walked in to meet her first grandchild and said “Now you’ve got a Baby Alive.”
I desperately wanted a Baby Alive. My mother refused to indulge any cliched mothering play and instead I received a beautiful old fashioned doll called Mary who didn’t do anything exciting like poo. I still have Mary, but I still think about Baby Alive.
Some people got their Baby Alive but never got to love her:
My cousin killed Baby Alive on day one by blocking her food tube with Smarties.
I killed my Baby Alive the day I got her by trying to baptise her in a red foam esky.
This is for all those still living with doll trauma, whether it was Barbie, a Bratz, a Tearie Dearie, a Chrissie Doll with the Hair that grows, a Velvet Doll, a Tiffany Taylor with the swivelling scalp, or a thousand other scary automatons and homunculi that wail and poop through our dreams and nightmares.
The little people of porcelain or plastic might be fake, but the emotions they inspire turn out to be all too real.