Parental Abandonment, trauma or artificial means. But no matter the means, the result is that the mother treats a doll as her child. If the real child is still around, she may treat him as an impostor, for added irony and sadness. The best case scenario is that the mother is so wrapped up that she doesn't even realize that her real child is standing in front of her, and she thinks that the child is a stranger. It can involve The Doll Episode. Compare Egg Sitting. Not a case of Artificial Humans. Replacement Goldfish are different, as the original child may still live, or may not exist at all. Also, being a Lonely Doll Girl or Living Doll Collector is not this. There is some Truth in Television here, as there are women who purchase lifelike baby dolls and treat them as if they were real babies. Super realistic baby dolls (such as the famous Reborn line) are seen as sweet by some, spooky by others; they have therapeutic value for women who have miscarried, and elderly women in nursing homes.
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Anime & Manga
- Kushana's mother in the Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind manga took a poisoned drink intended for her daughter. At their last meeting before Kushana left for war, she was treating a doll as her child and trying to protect it from unseen enemies.
- Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion. The contact experiment with Unit 02 fractured her psyche and led to her belief that a doll was Asuka. Due to her psychotic nature, she decapitated at least one of the dolls and then committed a 'Murder-Suicide' with another. A young Asuka discovered it.
- In The Familiar of Zero, Tabitha's mother purposefully drank a spiked drink meant for Tabitha, who is actually the next in line for the Galian throne. This resulted in her losing her mind and thinking that Tabitha's childhood doll was Tabitha herself, and that her daughter was an impostor sent to replace the doll. This leads to Tabitha leaving and adopting the name of her doll, Tabitha.
- In one version of Wonder Woman's backstory, the Amazons were not allowed to have children, but were permitted to carve little dolls out of wood to stem the loneliness. Some went a little too far, resulting in this trope, and Hippolyta's Knight Templar bodyguards would kill the "obviously" slipping Amazon.
- In the Czech film Little Otik (aka Greedy Guts), an infertile couple adopt a wooden stump and treat it as though it were their living child.
- In Arrow's Flight by Mercedes Lackey, Talia encounters a Weather Witch whose child drowned when she wasn't attentive enough. She has gone mad from grief and guilt and is convinced that a rag doll wrapped in a blanket is her son.
- In Phantom by Susan Kay, Erik hypnotizes his mother into believing a porcelain figurine is an infant. His reasons for doing so are...complicated.
- In The Malloreon, Ce'Nedra is put into a hallucinatory state by the villain, Zandramas, who had previously abducted her baby. In order to find out where the good guys are headed, Zandramas pretends to be a friend of Ce'Nedra and to return her baby, but what she actually gives is a bundle of rags. Ce'Nedra is left crooning over the bundle and trying to show her compatriots how beautiful it is. In order to save her from undue stress, Polgara erases her memory of the event.
- In "Overheard in an Asylum", a poem by Alfred Kreymborg, a doctor is talking to a child, saying calm, reassuring things. Then it's revealed that the child is a doll provided by the doctor to the mother.
- In Magic for Marigold, by L. M. Montgomery, a Lesley family heirloom is a life-size wax doll of a baby that some long-deceased family member had made of her own little baby, who died. The mother not only dressed the doll in her baby's clothes, but carried it with her, talked to it, and slept with it as if it were real. Now it's on display in a glass case (it's a very good quality wax dummy) but some family members are plain creeped out by it...
- This appears in the book Children of Men, though it didn't make it into the movie. It's also much more common—understandable in a world where nobody can have children any more.
- In the suspense novel Mine, by Robert R Mc Cammon , the character, prior to kidnapping a baby, has a few of these. Which she names for members of The Doors...and melts on the stove when they won't "behave."
- Joy from Psychoville has a doll called "Freddie" that she is convinced is her real child. She even steals blood from the hospital where she works to give Freddie transfusions.
- In The Haunting Hour episodes "Really You" and "Really You 2", Lily's mom starts treating Lily D [the doll] more like her daughter than she does the real Lily. Justified in part 2 because she just realizes that Lily D and Lily have switched places.
- In Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
- The detectives find a woman walking around the park with a plastic baby doll. She says that after god took her real baby he gave her one who could never die. They take the baby from her and refuse to give it back until she says whether she kidnapped a real missing baby
- In another episode, a woman who'd suffered brain damage in a bus accident lost the ability to recognize her real daughter's face, treating the girl as if she were an impostor. Instead, the woman became obsessed with an online video game, and fixated on the virtual "child" of her online avatar as her "son". When the police take her and her boyfriend into custody for neglecting her real daughter, she cries and yells because they'd hauled her away from the video screen when her "son" was in in-game danger.
- In the Smallville episode "Memoria", Lex is sitting on a high balcony, in the rain, apparently hallucinating that he is rocking his baby brother Julian to sleep. He's singing to the blanket and tells his father to be quiet or he'll wake the baby. He thinks he found the baby inside of his dorm, crying and told Julian that he'd never let anyone hurt him again.
- Crazy Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer spends much of her time mothering dolls, particularly "Miss. Edith". She even punishes them for perceived bad behaviour; eg., excluding them from playing with the rest or denying them meals.
- Invoked in the outrageous comedy series Gimme Gimme Gimme. Linda de Hughes is given a doll to use for Egg Sitting, to help her with anger management issues, and some passing strangers leap to the conclusion that's she's deranged and an example of this trope, which enrages her, and causes her to attack them with the doll.
- In Desperate Housewives, when Gaby found out that her daughter had been exchanged when she gave birth, she started searching and found the other (her biological daughter)girl, and coming to realize that she couldn't keep her near her, she bought an expensive doll and started to play with her, talk to her as real person, at first this is dismissed by the other characters, but when she and Carlos are about to go out, and arguing about the doll (which was in the back sit) they get robbed and told to step out of the car, Gaby refuses to let the doll even tough the robber had a loaded gun, and tries to retrieve it, yelling "My daughter!"
- The Ricky Gervais Show: Karl Pilktington tells a story about a homeless lady who used to walk around town pushing a baby carriage. It turned out that inside was a bucket with a face painted on it.
- In the play The Curious Savage, Florence, one of the inmates in the sanitarium, has a doll she thinks is her deceased son.
- Saeda, in Eve Ensler's play Necessary Targets, holds a bundle of blankets as a proxy for her lost daughter, Doona (whom she dropped when escaping from soldiers).
- In Tales of Symphonia, Raine's mother Virginia has freaks out due to the guilt of sending her and her brother Genius through the Otherwordly Gate and not being able to go through, too. Also, the loss of her husband (a human) didn't help. This results in her living in a house on Exire talking to a doll as if it were a 5-year-old Raine. The problem is that a now fully grown Raine is trying to get her to realize she [Raine] is her daughter.
- In BioShock, one of the first female splicers you meet is a mother who is increasingly desperate that her baby isn't moving. After she attacks you in a rage and you kill her, looking into the baby carriage reveals a handgun. Did we mention splicers tend to be insane? For bonus points you can steal it and then shoot her with it.
- In The Sims 2, a Family sim who falls into Aspiration Desperation will draw a face on a sack of flour and start cradling it/talking to it like it's a baby.
- In the What If? game Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, Frank West finds a broken Chuck Greene who has gone crazy due of the trauma of having his daughter Katey die before the games events. He carries a Katey-sized doll on his back and claims that it's his daughter and that he won't ever let anything happen to her. And yes, you have to fight him.
- The Simpsons: Homer takes a quiz that indicates he's going to die and goes a little crazy. At the plant he's found "nursing" a doll (missing an arm). His theory is that if he's a mother he can't die.