'I was furloughed when pregnant - now I worry I won't have a job to go back to'

Continuing a series, in which charity Pregnant Then Screwed share hidden stories of working women being discriminated against in lockdown

Many women with childcare responsiblities have found themselves the first in line to be furloughed
Many women with childcare responsiblities have found themselves the first in line to be furloughed (posed by model) Credit: JGI/Jamie Grill /Blend Images 

Leila* was placed on furlough by the company both she and her husband work for - and shortly before her maternity leave was due to begin. She now fears never being able to go back. Here, she tells her story...

Before Covid life hit we took it all for granted. We were happy, healthy, and had a good family unit. Our four-year-old would usually be at nursery four days a week and I am currently 35 weeks pregnant.

My company wasn't happy about it, but when the Government released its list of people at 'higher risk' who should stay at home where possible, I recommended they call our insurance company to check I was covered to be at work. I'm grateful to Pregnant Then Screwed for shining a light on maternity discrimination and  encouraging me to ask this question.

Both my husband and I work for the same business, so when the nurseries shut we were honest with our employers and told them our daughter would be home. If my husband was given permission to work from home, we said, then between us we could manage our full-time jobs and childcare. They said no. We were told that any time off would be unpaid until alternative arrangements could be found. My husband wasn't able to work from home until the Government shut down all non-essential businesses.

Once the scheme was announced, I was the second person to be called and placed on furlough.  I cried. I love my job but it made me feel useless. I was preparing for maternity leave, already knowing that I'd be at home for between nine months to a year - so to be told I would be absent from work for much longer made me feel like my brain would melt. Then came the mum guilt. Who on earth would cry about having to spend more time at home? Surely I should be grateful?

I had started struggling with my mental health before Covid-19 hit. I had pregnancy related anxiety. I was scared that because this pregnancy was so hard that something was wrong. But when the pandemic hit, strangely my anxiety got better. Everything was taken out of my control. We were all locked down. I even stopped worrying about my pregnancy - I was doing what I could to protect this baby, it’s safer inside of me than out.

I now spend my day looking after my daughter full-time, while heavily pregnant and doing the majority of the house work. My husband takes over at the weekend, so I can have a rest. He also gets up with her in the mornings and does the evening routine. I cook dinner most nights. 

Covid-19 has deeply affected my mood, especially the longer lockdown goes on. I feel lonely and that I'm not good enough. Waking up to the same routine every day gets me down. 

I clean the bathrooms twice a week, vacuum every few days, dust every few days, wash the floors once a week and clean the kitchen twice a week. Beds get stripped weekly. I refuse to do the bins or go out to the garage to use the tumble-dryer. My husband does those as well as preparing the breakfast, cleaning the shower cubicle (it's too much hassle with my big bump) and loading the dishwasher after dinner.

He's torn because he wants to do more to help around the house, but he can't during work hours. And once work finishes, I just want him to spend time with our daughter, so she and I can have some time apart. 

I'm exhausted and I'm no longer my daughter's favourite parent. She now she thinks Daddy time is a luxury and wants him more.

I was put on furlough in March and my maternity leave starts mid-June. The likelihood my company will want me back in May 2021, after spending over a year away? Slim. My last day in the office was a Tuesday and I was told at 4pm that from the next day I would be working from home and to take all my stuff with me.

There wasn’t a handover, no one said goodbye. I packed up my desk and that's likely to be how 12 years at the same company ends for me.

*Names have been changed

To contact Pregnant then Screwed with your story please email: ​[email protected]