Where Babies Come From
It started a year ago.
Melissa brought it up, all casual like. I don’t remember the context, but she mentioned, “Babyland General.” She said it like I would know what it was. Like it was the mall.
“What’s that?” I asked, not really that interested. It sounded like a baby supply superstore. As a rule, I don’t love baby supply stores. At that moment, I was concerned she might make me go to one with her.
“The Cabbage Patch place,” she told me. Her tone suggested I’d forgotten something as basic as a birthday.
And now she had my undivided attention.
“I’m sorry. What now?”
And then she explained. And it turns out Babyland General is where you shop for babies, not where you shop FOR babies.
“So is it like a factory tour?” I questioned, not quite getting it when she told me it’s where Cabbage Patch Kids are made.
No, no, no, no, she laughed. Cabbage Patch Kids are born, not made.
And then, because I stared at her with my mouth and eyes round as marbles, she told me everything.
Most of us buy our Cabbage Patch Kids at toy stores. Children in Georgia adopt them from Babyland General, this actually real hospital devoted to the birthing of cloth dolls with plastic faces. Their parents drive them out to Cleveland, GA, where there is not much else going on, so they can view the delivery of their dolls from the loins of Mother Cabbage. Who sits at the base of a magical lighted tree. That has pixie-esque BunnyBees dangling from it, impregnating the cabbages with gender crystals. And upon following a viewing of the miracle of Cabbage Patch life, our sweet Georgia brethren sign adoption papers with a nurse or doctor on staff. They take oaths to care for their cabbage babies forever, an oath it appears almost none of them have taken seriously into adulthood. I’ve been to their homes. I see only the rare Cabbage Kid.
The doctors and nurses wear scrubs, by the way.
“WHAT.” I replied to her staggering description.
“Oh, yes,” she said, still viewing me like I missed a step on the stairs.
“For real? There’s a magical cabbage patch? And babies come OUT of it?”
“Yes!” she repeated, starting to take some great delight in my wide-eyed questions.
I couldn’t quite believe it. No one who grew up in the days of Cabbage Patch mania hears of Babyland General as an adult and believes it. It sounds like some acid trip fever dream yanked from the fuzzy-edged days of our childhood.
I insisted that we visit, and Melissa acquiesced readily. A quick survey of other friends born and raised in Georgia confirmed her incredulity that I’d never heard of it. They’ve all been. More than once. This is, to them, how you get a Cabbage Patch Kid. And all of them acted like it was completely normal and not bizarre. Well, that’s not totally true. Some of them do laugh and say, “Yeah, I guess it’s kind of weird.” But, they’re all pretty matter of fact about it. It’s like they thought every state had a Babyland General. I suppose this is like when I left Louisiana and realized nobody else got a week’s vacation from school for Mardi Gras. Except with Babyland General, there are animatronic babies. Animatronic. Babies.
We waited a year for our trip so that Melissa’s daughter would be old enough to enjoy the experience. Not that we needed a reason to visit the Cabbage Patch mecca, but having a small child along legitimized our adventure. I suspected it would be cruel to just go there and snark. Children really do love it, and I didn’t want to be that smirking adult slinking around with a cell phone camera.
Even though I kind of did that anyway. But I did it with reverence. Like a Catholic calling the Pope “Frankie” with fondness in her or her voice.
Babyland General in its current incarnation, which I’m told is an upgrade from its original location in a smaller venue, looks like a grand estate. The pillared white mansion with the wrap-around porch sits atop a gently sloping green hill. If not for the massive sculptures of baby heads nestled in cabbage leaves, you might expect to see Civil War re-enactors mustering over the hill.
As children of the 80s, we’ve seen the baby-in-a-cabbage image all our lives and never questioned it. But have you ever stopped to think about the science or the logistics involved? Is there a fully formed body under the ground, growing like a potato? What happens when it rains? Is there great tragedy in a flood?
You can’t worry about these adult-minded issues for too long at Babyland General.
Once inside, you’re greeted by the many faces of previous celebrity visitors- Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Selleck, and Michael Keaton, to name a few. I wonder how many of them used their status to scoop up a handful of hard-to-find Kids for their children and nieces/nephews in the 80s.
Once you’re past this hall of fame, there’s an actual admissions desk where you actually sign in with a nurse in a white cap. Admission is free, but they’re building an illusion here. At our visit, we also spotted a Santa statue holding out an arm to welcome children into his lap. Melissa’s daughter seemed most interested in this, having just experienced the cognitive dissonance of befriending an old stranger and getting gifts in return at Christmas. She climbed right on to his lap, like an old pro, and seemed a little befuddled when he pulled her away.
After the nurse’s desk, we found cases filled with some of the original hand-stitched dolls crafted by Xavier Roberts, and they look like they might come alive in the night and gum you with their colorless lips. Melissa and I viewed them with wrinkled foreheads and cringes. Melissa’s daughter angrily tried to pry open the locked cabinets with her toddler fingers and made shrieky little growls of annoyance that she couldn’t get to these creatures of horror. I guess we don’t get a sense of which dolls will kill us until we’re in middle school.
We hustled her into the next series of rooms: the nurseries. The nurseries contain the limited-edition dolls. These are not the dolls you buy your two-year old to love to life like a Velveteen Rabbit. Collectors salivate over these hand-stitched dolls with that characteristic nose and hidden lower lip. Melissa’s daughter didn’t get the memo that these dolls are worth more than my monthly cable bill, and she carelessly scooped up low-hanging babies and dragged them from one nursery room to another. The staff at Babyland General would never shatter the illusion by tsking at her and making her stop. I imagine there’s some poor underling nurse who has to scurry into the nursery rooms to straighten them every time a toddler blusters through like a sticky hurricane.
We finally made it to the main area, the big event, the delivery room. Against the back wall, we saw the centerpiece: the Magic Tree of Life. Or whatever they call it. Magic Crystal Tree, I think. All those little baby faces you see below? They move. They rotate like it’s The Exorcist. There’s constant whirring as robotic Cabbage Kids turn to eye their surroundings.
About every half hour or so, they stage a live birth around the roots of the tree, but there’s plenty to do while you wait. And here is why Babyland General has no admission fee.
As you’ve read this, though you might have some nostalgia for the Cabbage Patch Kids of your youth, you might also be questioning the popularity of Cabbage Patch Kids in the modern day. Sure, you’re going to have your rabid collectors and your curious spectators, but you’re probably wondering if there’s enough Cabbage Patch traction to justify a whole tourist destination.
Oh, don’t worry. Babyland General thought of that. While you linger around waiting for the tree to have contractions, your waiting room is basically a toy store. Amidst the elaborately staged dolls in treehouses and newborns in cribs, you can find plenty of Cabbage Patch Kids and accessories. But you’ll also see My Little Pony, Sesame Street, those weird animals with bug eyes, puzzles, paper dolls, craft kits, and tons of stuffed animals.
I overheard one little girl having a tantrum to her aggravated parents, “But I don’t want a baby! I want this dog!”
(By the way, that seemed pretty progressive and feminist of her. I think I would have been proud.)
Her parents, clearly anticipating a golden afternoon adopting a Cabbage Patch Kid with their moppet in a dewy eyed rite of passage, told her the dog wasn’t for sale.
The kid, I think, knew they were lying. But then a kindly nurse came over to talk to her about the impending birth of a brand new Cabbage Patch Kid. It’s one thing to pull a demon-child routine with your own parents, but it’s another to show your brat-face to a stranger in scrubs. The kid backed down.
Meanwhile, Melissa’s daughter trailed around the toys, proving to be a questionable mother as she alternately hugged babies and then casually left them lying on the ground when a different baby presented itself. She gave her love indiscriminately and often while Melissa tried to determine which one of these dolls might be the one her daughter actually wanted to take home.
While her daughter squeezed a new baby with yarn hair sprouting from its head like radish leaves, Melissa leaned toward me and whispered, “The ones with teeth freak me out.”
And then came the big show, the main event, the moment of live cabbage birth.
Overhead, a cheery announcement summoned a doctor or nurse to the Magic Crystal Tree because, “Mother Cabbage is going into labor.”
(By the way, every time they refer to “Mother Cabbage,” it brings to mind “the mother” of a vinegar culture. And then I start to get squicked out.)
A young doctor, clearly someone who went into doll medicine for the money and not the passion, made his way to the tree and led us through a Cabbage Patch birth. I want to make a crack here about how his enthusiasm level suggested a high volume of pickleback shots the night before, but I worry someone from Babyland will some how read this and he’ll get in trouble for not being appropriately sincere and bouncy in his delivery, and I don’t want that. He did his job, okay? And the truth is, even when you work at a Magic Crystal Tree, work is still work, and we all have some where else we’d rather be. I saw Britney Spears in Vegas last year, and even she is just going through the motions for a paycheck. So let’s cut Dr. Cabbage some slack.
But still, let’s stop and marvel for a moment that this is HIS JOB. When he’s out with his buddies and they’re talking about work, he has to talk about cabbages giving birth. I really hope this kid is saving up for grad school or something. Maybe medical school for humans.
Some highlights of our live birth experience:
– The BunnyBees that flutter over the patch impregnate the cabbages with pink or blue crystals that determine gender. I sense some interesting “birds and bees” talks in some parental futures.
– A hole in the tree shows the Sonogram. That’s right. The tree grew with modern medical technology in it.
– They check to make sure Mother Cabbage is, “a full 10 leaves dilated.” The doctor assures us this is normal and gives her a dose of Imagicillin to, “loosen up her leaves for the delivery.” The level of detail here is IMPRESSIVE.
– While we’re translating real world medicine to cabbage birth medicine, let’s also mention the doctor’s use of an “Easy-otomy.” He’s never once had to do a C-section, which is a Cabbage Section. Which is what some farm-to-table restaurants serve for the salad course. Which reminds me of the disturbing Cabbage Patch Kids villains from the cartoons who said things like, “Cabbages, Cabbages, yum, yum, yum. Cabbages, Cabbages- GIMME SOME.”
– The doctor also lead us through breathing exercises and yelling the word “push” in order to assist Mother Cabbage in her delivery. This is the part where all the adults exchanged looks with each other like, “This is… uncomfortable.”
– And when Mother Cabbage at last expelled her baby (Do cabbages have muscles? What exactly was contracting?), our friendly doctor finished his act by cutting the cord. Cutting. The. Cord. What do we think the Cord connected to exactly? OUR IMAGINATIONS?
The doctor’s act really ends with a new baby wellness check-up in a glass windowed nursery, but I didn’t pay attention to that part. It’s hard to top a Magic Crystal Tree with animatronic babies at its base.
Melissa’s two year old daughter actually managed to stand still for the duration of the live birth, but she trundled off with her purloined stroller and baby-of-the-moment as soon as we got through “pushing.” As she bustled around the store, bossing babies and giving side eye to a blond girl who stole her chair at the Cabbage Beauty Salon, Melissa scooped up a grinning toddler Cabbage Kid for adoption.
“Is that the one she wants?” I asked.
Melissa watched in resignation as her daughter abandoned yet another newborn in the clutches of an overstuffed gorilla.
“No. But it kind of looks like her.”
Melissa paid the “adoption fee” while I looked for suitable adult souvenirs. Sorry, friends, no shot glasses. But you’re good to go if you want a shot of Imagicillin. Before you get excited, that’s not a fanciful liquor. (Though I suspect they could make some bank if they invested in that.) It’s a ballpoint pen designed to look like a syringe filled with the magical drug that “loosens up Mother Cabbage.” I bought two.
In the end, Melissa’s daughter had to be herded into the adoption room, where she repeated the adoption oath back to the nurse on duty. Sensing the importance of the moment, she embraced her new baby, Ruby Jane, for Melissa’s cell phone camera. These modern kids…. they know exactly what to do when you hold up your iPhone.
We left the adoption room, and Melissa’s daughter trailed her baby behind her for a moment before abandoning her completely in favor of a cradle of newborns. Sighing, Melissa leaned down to scoop up the newest member of her family.
“Well,” she said, tucking Ruby Jane under her arm, “Was it everything you hoped?”
“And more,” I told her. “Did you know you can get married here?”
We headed for the exit. On the way home, we stopped for queso. Basically, it was the perfect day.