'Holding Silvan': A Mother Says Goodbye to Her Baby Son

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 (Courtesy Monica Wesolowska)

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.


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


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.