There’s this place in Cleveland, Georgia called BabyLand General Hospital where Cabbage Patch Kids are born. No, not where they’re made. Where they’re born.
My mom took my sister and me here back in the '80s when it was cool to have one of these dolls with a plastic head, fabric torso, and the signature of its creator Sharpie-d on its butt. Despite it being a quick pitstop on our way to Disney World, I can honestly say this “hospital” is the only thing I remember about the whole trip. Because it never made sense to me, even at the gullible age of 8 with zero sex education yet, why on earth baby dolls would get pulled out of the vagina of a tree. Twenty-five years later, I headed back to see if this place really is as bananas as I remember it.
It’s even crazier!
BabyLand sits on 650 acres of land about a two-hour drive north of Atlanta. Until a few years ago, it was in a ginormous Victorian house. Then a few years ago, it moved into a 70,000-square foot antebellum mansion that looks like a cross between Tara from Gone with the Wind and South Fork from that old shitty-'80s show Dallas.
The new facility has a Grand Ballroom that’s ideal for birthday parties, family reunions, or weddings if you have some weird doll fetish and or a twisted sense of humor like me. But it’s less personal and more like a store, which is fitting since the whole point is to get you to buy one of their $300 baby dolls, especially since admission is free. People apparently complain a lot (just scroll through the hundreds of reviews on TripAdvisor) about the exhibits being too small now, the place being too commercial in general, and no one being able to walk around Mother Tree anymore while she’s giving birth to a babydoll.
But, whatevs. Weird haters gonna hate.
Just like a real hospital, you’re greeted by staff wearing scrubs and doctors coats and are asked to sign in as a visitor upon entry. The little girl behind me has to sign her Cabbage Patch Doll in, too. Not just because they want to make sure nobody is stealing dolls, but because everyone who works here fully commits to their role as actual doctors and LPNs (Licensed Patch Nurses). Now might be a good time to mention I was probably the only 32-year-old child-free person on the property. Everyone else is a kid or related to one. But again, I’m here to find out what’s up with this tree that pushes baby dolls out of her vagina.
From what I understand, this hospital is ever-evolving, changing its displays quite regularly, but on my particular trip, each room of the house has a theme. There’s a school room which has a long yellow school bus with dolls hanging out the window (dangerous!), a playground where they’re spinning in tire swings and hanging off monkey bars (also dangerous!), a classroom of them studying at little desks, and finally, my favorite, the cafeteria. A couple dozen dolls are seated at tables with beige trays full of garbage cafeteria food made of plastic in front of them—pizza, hot dogs, peas and carrots, even tiny milk cartons (and dog food grade meat I assume like real schools). There’s a room dedicated to Christmas where Santa is reading off his naughty or nice list to a bunch of eager dolls at his feet. There’s one room where they’re all on a boat for some reason, and another one where they’re hanging over New Orleans-style balconies and almost look like a bunch of wasted tourists throwing Mardi Gras beads to women showing their bingos. But none of these bizarre rooms prepare you for how very fucked up the one full of “preemies” (premature babies) is.
When I first enter the room, there’s no one in here but a nurse bent over a crib talking to the preemies in her Southern drawl, making them more comfortable. “Now there ya go. Gonna tuck you in just like that.” I’m not even kidding. This lady acts like these babies are real. It’d be one thing if she were talking to them while tourists were around, but she has no idea I’ve just snuck up behind her in this otherwise empty room. She ain’t performing, y’all. She’s talking.
She adjusts the IV drip of something called Imagacilian, then turns around. “Oh shoot, ya scared me!” she says startled but smiling. “They’re just a hair testy today!” she says. I smile back, “Maybe it’s gas!” I’m willing to play crazy for this lady’s sake.
OK, so what is this Imagacilian stuff, you might ask. To be honest, I have no idea what kind of medical cocktail it is. But I do know it’s what they give Mother Tree while she’s giving birth (more on that later). This particular kind is a clear liquid in a glass container dripping down into a tube, which leads to preemies who are fighting for their lives. But these few dozen tiny little babies are lucky. At least they’re in a crib! The ones in the room next door are still in incubators.
Before I continue, I should address the preemie elephant in the room. It wasn’t until all my friends became moms that I realized just how very messed up the whole concept of selling preemies is to begin with. If these dolls were as popular today as they were 30 years ago, there’s no way they would have gotten away with making mad profits off such a sensitive subject. But alas, this was all thought of in the '80s, and it was anything goes back then. Though it’s weird they haven’t reassessed this concept yet. The official explanation for their premature birth is “an early frost” (remember, they’re cabbage… but also not?) and even their birth certificates say preemie. They are three inches shorter than the other babies and their diapers are extra small. Here at BabyLand General, they fully commit to crazy.
Sadly, the ones in the incubator room are not doing so well. But you can still touch them! Just like a real hospital, the glass cases they’re inside have two holes just big enough to fit your hands through. Even preemies need human touch, right? None of the kids touring this room seem to understand why these infants are in glass cases, but neither did I when I asked for a preemie decades ago when they were all the rage.
I finally make my way to The Magic Crystal Tree, also known as Mother Cabbage. The name is quite fitting, as there are a bunch of crystals hanging off her like Christmas ornaments. Oh and stuffed bunny rabbits, too. None of this makes sense, I know, but if you go to their website, they explain the insane story behind how Xavier Roberts “discovered” The Little People (whom they rebranded as Cabbage Patch Kids to avoid confusion) after he allegedly got lost in some cave and was attacked by magic bunnies.
Even the backstory of these dolls is bonkers!
Eager for some action, I stop by the nurses’ station near Mother Tree to find out when the next bun is coming out of her oven. “Soooo, how long till the next birth?” I ask. These elderly women in their old school paper hats are not your usual Southern fake friendly, but rather they seem almost as bitter from stress and too many patients as actual nurses. One shrugs, “I don’t know. You can’t predict Mother Nature.” As a former improv comedian in NYC, I actually appreciate her commitment to staying in character, but still, I don’t have all day. “I heard there’s a birth every 20 or 30 minutes…” I say, fishing. They shrug, pretending to not know, and now I hate these bitches. Though I respect them even more.
“Paging Dr. Something or Other,” I hear over the intercom (no idea the real name). I give the old bat who lied a well-played look and she shrugs again, still not giving any fucks.
The room floods with eager kids, their parents, and some grannies, who all gather around Mother Tree. I stand off to the side because I’m tall and not a jerk like that. This is when I notice just how batshit crazy the whole layout is. All around the tree are baby doll heads encased in cabbage leaves planted into the ground. I’m guessing one of these babies is about to be “born.” A Werther's Originals-aged doctor enters through the gate in the back of Mother Tree to stand in the circle of open space that separates the cabbage babies from their enormous plastic Mother Tree. The area is just big enough for the doctor and the equipment she needs—a monitor for Mother Tree’s vitals, a tray full of pink and blue blankets, and all the doctor tools she’ll need. There’s also a stand with an upside down 2-liter plastic coke bottle (recycled!) full of a disgusting pink substance dripping into the tube, which leads to Mother Tree’s roots. It’s labeled Imagicilian. I guess mommy gets the pink stuff.
I can’t for the life of me figure out where the hell this baby is actually coming out of until I see a hole in the ground near all the cabbage baby heads. The doctor, bitter like someone who’s delivered one too many babies, narrates the hole experience in very kid-friendly, yet monotone language, taking Mother Tree’s heartbeat with her stethoscope, measuring her dilation with calipers, and discussing what she’ll do in the “C-section” (cabbage section). She then gives the tree an epidural shot and sticks forceps into her dirt vagina. The whole thing is unbelievably fast, but maybe the magic crystals and pink drugs going into her veins help.
That, and Mother Tree is one hell of a sport!
She doesn’t moan or anything while this doctor puts her arms in elbows deep and yanks a naked baby doll from the birth canal. “Oh look, it’s a girl,” says the worst actor of all time with her forced smile. She slaps it on the back, wraps it in a very gendered pink blanket, and presents it to a room full of gaping kids. Woooooow. They are so amazed by the birth process. I’m sure the car ride home is full of questions for mom and dad.
“Now one of you’s gotta name her,” the doctor demands. A room full of kids yell out whatever comes to mind. “Laura it is,” she declares.
Laura is then whisked away to the nursery, where she’s given a thorough checkup including weight and height measurements, reflex tests, and x-rays with pictures. I’m not sure if Laura’s new mommy was predetermined or if she’ll be adopted by someone random, but chances are the little girl who got to name her had parents willing to fork out enough cash to let her do so. Yup, apparently, you can pay extra for first dibs on each baby born pulled out of Mother Tree's birth canal. I guess BabyLand prepares kids for the socioeconomic inequalities they’ll face later on by making the not-so-privileged kids have their Cabbage babies born from a cardboard box.
But I digress.
They also have a pretty lengthy adoption process (another sensitive topic!). You have to take an oath of adoption and fill out paperwork, then voila! You’re a parent!
Since it’s the South, most of the dolls come with two first names like Mary Elizabeth or Garnet Louisa, so if you’re not into that, you have to pay to get it changed.
Before you leave they try to sell you a bunch of other garbage for your doll —clothes, eyeglasses, extra diapers, etc. I buy some playing cards and a paper nurse's hat like Nurse Ratchet’s, then get the hell out of this Twin Peaks episode. As much as I enjoyed this bonkers place, the treatment of Mother Tree was one more reminder of why I don’t have kids myself. If I ever decide to give up this child-free life of mine, it will have to be adoption. Now I, like all these kids here, have a realistic understanding of just how easy-peasy it must be. Right?