Leslee Bossert has been on the front lines of many difficult births, including some that ended in loss. As a labour and delivery nurse, including with STARS air ambulance in the Maritimes, she worked directly with families on some of the best and worst days of their lives.
“I delivered 25-weekers in little tiny hospitals… babies in elevators,” she said from her Canmore home.
“It’s a job you had to sink yourself into or you couldn’t do it.”
Despite her compassion and deep love for her work, helping others, she said nothing could really prepare her to experience it herself.
“I didn’t understand how strong of an impact that would be how much it would impact somebody’s life long-term.”
In 2016 Bossert and her wife Kerri decided to have children of their own. They used Kerri’s embryos and a sperm donor and soon after Leslee was pregnant.
“I loved being pregnant. I felt so special; I thought it was the best thing in the whole world,” said Bossert.
But around 20 weeks in, came the devastating news. They were told their baby was “incompatible with life,” and wouldn’t survive.
“We had a choice to either continue with the pregnancy and see if she would die in utero or we could have an early induction for labour,” said Bossart. “They make mistakes and ultrasound isn’t 100 per cent but she was getting sicker.”
“So hard, the hardest decision you can make in your whole life, I think.”
Bossart was induced and on Dec. 24 she gave birth to daughter MacKenzie, who died before entering the world at 24 weeks.
“I was round and happy and all of sudden everything was ripped away.”
“You walk into a hospital, where most people would go with hope and excitement, it’s the biggest day of their life and we walked out of that hospital, the emptiest I have ever been in my entire life,” she said, wiping tears away from her eyes.
“Christmas Eve is not a nice time to have a still-born baby. I wouldn’t recommend it,” she added dryly.
Bossert described the following eight weeks as the most difficult in her life, recalling how her milk still came in, her body was ready to take care of a baby that was no longer there.
Doctors assured her and her wife that the chances of another pregnancy resulting in the same way as the first one were slim. So they got a new sperm donor and tried again. Everything was going well until that 20-week ultrasound, again.
“She was barely moving. They suspected her lungs were small. They said, ‘Your baby has the same thing wrong with it as the first one did.'”
The couple had no choice but to relive their darkest days all over again. Sydney was born at 21 weeks, just over a year after her sister. She lived 22 minutes.
“My wife and I just laid there with her and held her until she died,” she said.
“I was really glad she was born alive, so tiny but moving her arms and legs, I was afraid she’d be the only living baby that I’d hold.
“That it happened twice nearly is unbelievable.
“It’s a loss like no other. You can’t compare it to anything else. You shouldn’t have to bury your own kids, that’s the truth.”
According to Statistics Canada, in 2019 there were 3,191 fetal deaths across the country where the fetus was at 20 weeks or more of gestation, about eight per every 1,000 births.
Despite being a health professional herself, Bossert said the mental and emotional support offered in the weeks and months that following was negligible.
“I think I had good medical care but I think the support that I had beyond that, I think it was atrocious,” she said.
“Even health-care professionals are not comfortable with that kind of loss or with managing someone going through that kind of loss. Because of that, I don’t think people get the care they deserve,” she continued, adding that the stigma is so deep some family members don’t even want to ask about it or acknowledge what she went through or even say her daughters’ names.
Bossert found out her pregnancy triggered a dormant auto-immune disorder, which impacted her babies. Her wife Kerri decided to try and the couple now have two beautiful children.
Leslee admits it is impossible to understand the grief they endured unless you’ve been through it yourself and she now is helping others navigating that same heart-wrenching path. Not a day goes by she doesn’t think of the two little girls that first made her a mom.
“It’s a horrific experience to go through but at the same time it’s like, even though they were young and didn’t survive, they will be a part of us forever.”
“My first daughter had red hair and red eyelashes just like my wife. It’s amazing,”