Haunted by a 'Present Absence'


Hollway (2007) has highlighted the way a new mother draws intersubjectively on the 'vestigial experience' of her own infantile and child state in relationship with her mother. Developing this I argue that before she has a child a woman anticipates her potential maternal subjectivity through what she 'knows' psychically and socially; both through this 'vestigial experience', through her observation and experience of her mother and other mothers, and the conflicting and contradictory social discourses of mothering in which she is immersed as she grows up. Together these create in her a fantasy maternal subjectivity that has both conscious and unconscious dimensions. This article draws on a psychosocial study of the narratives and drawings of 26 New Zealand women in their 30s and 40s who are 'circumstantially childless' (Cannold 2000); that is women who have always seen themselves as having children but find themselves at the end of their natural fertility not becoming biological mothers for social rather than (at least initially) biological reasons. They are engaged in a process of coming to terms with this situation and are in the unusual, but not uncommon, position of being neither 'voluntarily childless' (since they would like to have a child), nor 'involuntarily childless' (since they were/are, at least initially, biologically capable of doing so). It uses a psychosocial reading of the notions of 'ghosts' and 'haunting' to characterize the nature of the relationship between these women and their fantasy child(ren) and potential maternal subjectivities.

How to Cite

Tonkin, L., (2012) “Haunted by a 'Present Absence'”, Studies in the Maternal 4(1), p.1-17. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/sim.49









Lois Tonkin



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