While living on Potrero Hill, Debbie Findling found it challenging to have a second child. Her daughter, Sara, who weighed less than five pounds when she was born, was two-years-old. Before Sara arrived, Debbie had suffered a number of miscarriages, including a stillbirth. Her fertility woes continued after Sara’s birth.
“Like many women who experience fertility loss and infertility, I felt a sense of desperation,” she admitted. “I tried just about everything to have another baby. I went to gynecological specialists, herbalists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. I even consulted a fertility witch.”
When Debbie’s aunt, Los Angeles resident Elaine Findling, heard of her dilemma she thought she might have a solution: Phyllis’ fertility doll. Phyllis was an old friend of Elaine’s who gave Elaine’s daughter-in-law, Melissa, an odd looking statue that Phyllis called a “fertility doll.” She’d picked it up in Arizona; she couldn’t recall when or exactly where. Elaine’s faith in the doll was sparked after Melissa got pregnant shortly after receiving it. “It must have worked,” said Elaine. “She got pregnant.”
Melissa’s pregnancy started a chain that solidified the fertility doll’s reputed powers. At least five women—all of whom were having serious fertility challenges—reported getting pregnant within a few months, if not weeks, after setting the doll on their bedroom dresser.
Debbie wasn’t one of them. After receiving the doll from her aunt, she held onto it for about a year, but its magic didn’t materialize. When her friend, Tiffany Shlain, confided that she too was having trouble getting pregnant, Debbie offered the small figure to her. “It didn’t seem to be working for me,” she said, “but I figured maybe it’d work for someone else.”
Shortly after receiving the doll, Tiffany became pregnant.
“While I had an easy time having my first child, I had a very difficult time having a second child. After going through five miscarriages, Debbie kindly lent me her fertility goddess,” said Tiffany, a former Hill resident.
After she received it, Tiffany, a filmmaker, was optimistic about the doll’s powers. “I was putting my hopes everywhere and anywhere. I was making deals with the universe…. I’d like to think Debbie’s doll, working together with my fertility treatments, helped me have another child.”
Then there was Sara’s third grade teacher. Like Tiffany, she’d tried numerous interventions to conceive, including In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), with no success. Debbie passed her the doll from Tiffany.
Sara’s teacher was soon pregnant.
After she successfully gave birth, the doll went to another of Debbie’s friends, who prefers to remain anonymous. She too had tried IVF, with no success. After the figure arrived in her home she got pregnant; within a year she gave birth to twin girls.
Like all of the women in the chain, Castro District resident Danielle Foreman, the most recent fertility doll recipient, had found it challenging to conceive. She and her husband decided to use a surrogate. Debbie gave her the fertility doll, because “it couldn’t hurt and maybe it’d help her surrogate get pregnant.” Within a short time, Danielle’s surrogate was indeed pregnant. A couple of months later, so was Danielle. The surrogate is due in June, Danielle in August. Danielle calls them “twins, but not twins.”
“I didn’t know about the fertility doll, but I did vaguely know about some of Debbie’s fertility struggles,” said Danielle. “We were having lunch discussing several things, including fertility, when she mentioned the doll. My first thought was some kind of nice voodoo doll. She told me all the stories of women who had struggled to have kids for years, and once they had the doll they got pregnant.”
“The infertility/fertility journey is a mix of science and faith. You have no real control of the outcome, and because of that the only thing you can hold on to is hope. Hope that this time will be different; hope that the doctor finally gets it right; hope that God or whatever higher power out there finally sees your plight. So despite how illogical it may seem…I did have hopes that the doll would work. Even if the doll itself didn’t work, I had something new to add to my hope list.”
Before getting pregnant Danielle had gone on a long journey to conceive. She tried acupuncture and herbs, Clomid – to help her ovulate – had a hysterosalpinogram – a fallopian tubal flush – Intrauterine Insemination, and IVF. She’d seen a Reiki healer and a Balinese priest. She built a Kokopelli altar, featuring a Shiva goddess, sage and palo santo, and healing crystals. “My husband thought I started to believe in rocks and statues, but they kept me calm,” she said.
Not long after receiving the doll, the surrogate “was pregnant with our child!” exclaimed Danielle. “Our pregnancy journey finally began. The level of PTSD I had was astonishing. I couldn’t believe that this happened, she was healthy and it was going to work! The surrogate was about 15 weeks pregnant when I missed my period. I decided to take a pregnancy test – because every fertility patient never really gives up – and it was positive! I had for the first time ever conceived without medical intervention! My blood work and ultrasounds came back perfectly. It was a true miracle. Both of the babies are miracles. I think the power of meditation and mindfulness worked, and the fertility doll was a part of that.”
Even though the doll didn’t work for her, Debbie likes to believe she’s had a role to play in other pregnancies. None of the women she’s given the figurine to know one another. She’s their only link, and sole connection to the doll.
Debbie has rules for the doll. It must stay in the woman’s house for the full duration of the pregnancy, a practice that’s enabled her to pass the figurine on to four women over the past 12 years.
Sara is now 14 years old. In the dozen years since receiving the doll, Debbie never mentioned to her aunt what she was doing with it. “I kind of don’t want to tell her because I don’t want her to ask for it back,” she admitted. “I want to keep using it for my friends.”