Monica Wesolowska gave birth to a baby boy, only to be told there were complications and he had little brain function. In her memoir, “Holding Silvan: A Brief Life,” she details her final weeks with her dying son, and the choices she and her husband had to make about letting him go. She joins us in the studio.

Interview Highlights

An Excerpt From 'Holding Silvan'

For now, Silvan lies asleep as usual, threaded with tubes and wires and the medical tape that holds it all in place. He is five days old, and nothing has changed. We have a plan, but Dr. A still wants us to wait, as if we ourselves might change. Silvan has not opened his eyes since his first night of life; a fat tube in the mouth helps him breathe; thin tubes give him fluids and medicine. To help us hold him, nurses transfer him with all his equipment onto a pillow, and then pass the pillow to us. For all of this, Silvan seems sweetly asleep. He has the flushed cheeks and lips of a baby who has just finished nursing. He keeps his two little fists curled up, one on either side of his face, the way I do sometimes in bed because I find it comforting. I watch him lying calmly on a pillow in my brother Kim's lap.

Now at last when we have made our decision, there is time just to mother Silvan.

At the next bed, a mother and grandmother of a baby who is ready to go home sit silent as always, taking turns feeding and burping their baby. They seem self-conscious about speaking to him in the silly way that people usually speak to babies. The only words they speak are to each other. Perhaps they will be less self-conscious once they get him home alone but I doubt it. Although they were told weeks before that he was ready, the mother is afraid. Afraid that he will choke on his food at home and die. Perhaps he is brain damaged too. I smile at them and turn to my baby who will never go home.

With Silvan on Kim's lap, I find I can reach his little face through his equipment more easily than I can when he's on my own. I bend to kiss his forehead, then his nose, then the space by his ear that is free of medical tape. And then I cannot stop. I kiss the front of his neck below the breathing tube, those warm wrinkles, and the side of his neck, so smooth, so smooth, and his shoulder, and the creases at the edge of his armpit and across his naked sternum and down towards his belly button, all the while making smacking noises, eating him up.

When I raise my head I am renewed as if, after hours on the trail, I have found water. But Kim is inscrutable. A distant smile on his face. I think of the kisses I gave him, kisses just like these, when he was a baby newly arrived from Korea. I think of his birth mother, too, wondering if she kissed him like this, the newborn she was about to let go. If so, I feel linked to her pain.

The mother and grandmother at the next crib stare in surprise.

"That was quite a kiss," the grandmother says.

"Well, once I started I couldn't stop," I say.

My time is limited. This is a mother's love distilled.

Copyright c 2013 by Monica Wesolowska. All rights reserved. All rights not expressly granted herein are reserved by the author.

‘Holding Silvan’: A Mother Says Goodbye to Her Baby Son 29 July,2013forum

Monica Wesolowska, author of "Holding Silvan: A Brief Life," and lecturer at UC Berkeley Extension

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    oh my goodness i cannot believe there are no comments here. Ms. Wesolowska, thank you for such an honest, present discussion of this topic. I’ve not lost a child, as health issues have prevented me from pregnancy or even adopting (i mostly can’t care for myself, so….).

    You advice to just GO be with the person, even if you don’t want to or don’t know what to do, is so meaningful. The worst part is to be shunned, to be shut out of the human experience/community (like you at the baby shower). People, take Monica’s advice!

    “…then there was a shift change…” First, i am very happy that the process worked out well for you, i do agree that having the chance to really think these decisions thru is a gift and very worthwhile (sometimes things just move too fast). But those few words illustrate the capricious nature of this medical ‘system’, on the one hand that i am glad that there is the flexibility for people to work it and get what they want if they are lucky and persistent), on the other hand it’s so chaotic when people are in such extreme circumstances, that cannot be right.

    Thank you Monica and ‘howdy!’ to you, hubby, and all your kids!!! steph

  • John Brooks

    Dear Ms Wesolowska – I related to your story on Forum today on several levels. Like you, we lost our daughter Casey 5 years ago. She was 17, adopted at 14 mos. from Poland (I’ll get back to this later). I wrote a book about my search for answers to her death. It is in the hands of an agent in search of a publisher. You’re right. Publishers don’t like sad stories, but as your interview and audience response showed, many people relate to them because of shared experiences. Your interview gives me hope that my book will see the light of day.

    Casey was a suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge; she disappeared. My book is a search for an answer: why did this happen, what did everyone miss? It was her early abandonment and institutionalization in a Polish orphanage – attachment disorder.

    I’m sending this link to my agent in the hope that this will resonate in the publishing community. Thanks for opening that door.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Loved the show because it was such a sensitive, thoughtful show.
    Then I read an article from England suggesting babies should actually be killed if not born healthy.


  • Rene’ Steelman

    You echoed my own words that I am speaking too much lately. As the care of my 27 year old burdens my aging body and mind I want the doctors to know that saving lives often kills others. He is the youngest of my six children and even though his life has given us joy, his living has made my ability to be a grandmother hard and my life’s dreams of being something as well as his mother impossible. I wish I would have been given a chance to make a choice.

  • Jennifer Nichols Graue

    This was such a moving, beautiful interview. Poignant and painful, but well worth listening to. Rene touches on this below, and Ms. Wesolowska addresses it in the interview: there are things worse than death. It also gave me so much insight on what to say to someone who has lost a child. Additionally, it’s fantastic advice for those who don’t know what to do for someone who is dealing with end of life issues- no matter the age. Too often we abandon family and friends in their time of need because we’re uncomfortable with death. Finally, it helped bring more clarity to my father’s death and the timing of it, and how beautiful and miraculous that I was there when he died. It was terrible to experience in the moment, but I’m so thankful I was there and this interview reminded me of that.

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