Think about the feeling of holding a sleeping baby and then imagine being able to give that sense of comfort to others. That's exactly what a Minnesota family that specializes in making babies does.
The Lindblooms came a long way to be here -- and the job they do is not easy.
"A serenity baby is a baby that can find the situation that you are in and you need at the time to bring peace into your life," Cindy Lindbloom explained.
Peace comes from calm cuddling of one of the babies born at the Loving Hearts Nursery in St. Joseph, and something magical happens each time one of those babes is brought out into the world.
They are so convincing that they can fool a genuine model -- and his mother. They're so surprisingly realistic that few realize they are actually lifelike dolls.
In fact, the serenity babies are so like the real thing, it's hard to resist the urge to talk to them.
"Hi sweetheart," said Florence, who lives at the Johanna Shores Senior Community in Arden Hills. "Do you see me?"
While Florence knows she is not holding a real baby, that doesn't matter.
"Let's see if you can do a little patty cake," she coos at the babe.
The therapists at the elderly care facility, which bought five serenity babies for the residents to share, say it only takes an instant for the babe to bring out joy.
"The instant you put it in their arms, they are cooing and awing," Nancy said. "It reaches down in them somewhere and it pulls out that feeling of joy."
But that joy gestates slowly. Cindy and Darryl Lindbloom build the dolls in what they call a nursery, not a studio -- even though what they create is art.
"Some people call it a craft," Darryl Lindbloom said. "I think when you take it to this level, it's art."
The man who is more inclined toward engines paints with precision that tickles just to watch as he creates what he calls 3-D interactive art. He starts with the skin tone. After drying in the oven, the detail will come on another day.
Little veins in the skin get blended as layers go over it, and it's so precise that your eyes will swear the doll is a real baby until you touch it.
Even then, the weighted limbs make the dolls move in a lifelike way when they're scooped up. The Lindblooms use fine glass beads inside nylons to create the effect, and each one is unique.
"No two of them are alike," Darryl Lindbloom explained. "It gives each one their own little personality."
Little personalities are something the Lindblooms know a lot about. They had three of their own children and fostered many others. In the 80s, the couple cared for infants of teen mothers until the babes were ready to go to permanent homes.
"You cry when they leave, but you know they are going to a great place," Cindy Lindbloom said. "Just seeing the happiness on the adoption people's faces, that made me happy."
It's a bit like that with the serenity babies too.
For some at the Johanna Shores Senior Community, memories don't come so easily any more -- but something about the babies in the memory care unit that revives something special.
"There is a change and they start reminiscing about their babies, about when they were babies, when their siblings were babies," Nancy explained.
Though Roger can't recall whether he combed his hair in the morning, seeing the serenity baby helps him hear sounds from long ago.
"The baby songs my wife used to sing to my five kids come back to my memory," he said. "She made it up, I'm sure."
The therapeutic potential is clearly there.
"For women, it raises our oxytocin, and the oxytocin level is known as the 'happy hormone' or the 'comforting hormone,'" Cindy Lindbloom said.
One woman who had lost a baby was drawn to the dolls, along with a young man.
"The guy got tears in his eyes. He said it's just so touching," Cindy Lindbloom recalled. "He goes, 'Yeah, we can't have any more children.'"
While some see the dolls as collectibles, the Lindblooms really love to see their work delivered to the arms of those who need the feeling only holding a baby can bring.
"It's hard to describe," Darryl Lindbloom said. "I think it's something inside us, just the need to nurture something."
The Lindblooms know that feeling is a very real thing -- even if the baby is not.