Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, more than 1 million health-care workers in the U.S. have lost their jobs as hospitals have postponed nonurgent procedures. Anna, who’s 31 and works as a nurse practitioner in a hospital, was furloughed in March. Three months later, she still hasn’t returned to work, and she’s also seven months pregnant with her first child. She and her husband have always wanted kids, but now she’s feeling increasingly anxious that she won’t have a job to go back to after giving birth. She told us about what it’s felt like to face both new parenthood and career uncertainty.
Around six weeks pregnant, I started feeling terrible. Just like, all-day nausea, all the time. Early pregnancy is this weird dynamic, because you feel horrible but you’re told that you’re supposed to keep it a secret. I’m a nurse practitioner, and I work in a hospital seeing patients that are admitted for gastroenterology issues — so anything from liver disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, stuff like that. Around eight or nine weeks, I told some of the physicians that I work with that I was pregnant, just because I was so miserable and I wanted them to know why I was barely functioning.
That was around the end of January, which was also when I was starting to get a little concerned about coronavirus. But I had no idea it would be like this. I remember Ebola. I was an ER nurse at the time, and we prepared to treat Ebola patients, but then we never had any. I wasn’t sure if coronavirus would end up being a similar situation.
It wasn’t until March 12 and 13 when I started to realize shit was hitting the fan. Initially, it was really unsettling, because it felt like the hospital didn’t have a plan, and we were starting to get a few coronavirus patients. At that point, they were still telling us that you couldn’t wear a mask unless you were seeing coronavirus patients. Basically, they said it wasn’t going to protect you. Obviously, that has radically changed. Now you can’t walk into a hospital without a mask.
At the time, I was nervous about being pregnant. There are still so many unknowns about pregnancy and COVID, but at that point there was only limited data and we weren’t really sure how reliable it was. Because I was early in my second trimester, I was afraid that if I got sick, something might happen to the fetus — either I would miscarry or that developmentally there could be some kind of an issue, like what you saw with Zika.
I went into work the week of March 16, and it felt like the apocalypse was coming. We didn’t really know what was going to happen, but we were seeing these videos from Italy, and it just seemed like the hospital was going to be overrun.
The doctors I work with said they were concerned about the risks for me being pregnant. They told me to go home and they would figure out a plan. So I was in limbo that week — but by the end of the week, I started to realize that my job was in jeopardy.
A few days later, they did a Zoom call with some of the nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants and told us we were going to be furloughed for 60 days. I think they initially furloughed over 300 employees, and then there was a second wave of furloughs a few weeks later.
It was devastating. I understood it from a financial perspective. Essentially, our clinic volumes were way down because they were canceling all elective cases and only doing procedures that were emergencies. They were stressing that this was not performance-related, but you can’t help but think, if I was better, would I have stuck around? It feels very personal. And then they take your work phone, and they take away your access to work email. It just feels kind of cold.
Thankfully, we still have my husband’s income, so we’re okay financially. Still, it feels horrible to be pregnant and be furloughed. On one hand, I know I’m lucky to be home and safe during kind of a scary and uncertain time. But on the other hand, becoming a mom is such a weird transition. You get a positive pregnancy test, and it’s like, oh my God, my life is going to change. And so you feel like you want to keep some part of yourself the same — like, hold on to some part of your identity. For me, that was my job.
I feel like I’m good at my job. I really like being able to connect with patients and take care of people when they’re at their most terrified. No one wants to be in the hospital, and just taking five minutes to ask a patient about their life makes a difference. It gives me a sense of purpose to know that I’m helping someone find out what’s wrong with them and making them better.
Before I became a nurse practitioner, I worked for six years as an ER nurse. I’ve always been the type to run into the fire. Initially, when I got furloughed, I thought, maybe I’ll go to New York, or somewhere else where they need me. But then I was like — oh yeah, I’m pregnant, so that’s probably not what I should do. It was frustrating knowing that I wasn’t going to be in the hospital every day, getting my hands dirty with everyone else.
My husband is working from home, but he’s pretty busy. Every morning, I wake up, and it’s like, just me and the dogs all day. We got another email recently saying that they were extending the furlough for another six weeks. My state has resumed elective procedures now, but there’s been next to no communication from my company, so I don’t really have a sense of how things are going. It sounds like they’re having a hard time planning for anything more than the next one or two weeks ahead as things change.
At this point, I’m not going to get a new job at seven or eight months pregnant. I feel stuck. It’s scary to think of having a baby and not having a job to go back to. I’m nervous about how I will go back into the workforce. When are we going to come out of this? What is health care going to look like? I’ve heard that hospitals all over are laying people off or they have hiring freezes, so it’s not really a great job market, which feels insane to say as a health-care provider right now.
It’s all just made me realize that there’s no perfect time to have a baby. I don’t think if I were to get pregnant two years from now, it would be any better of a time to do it. I have a healthy pregnancy, so I just try to remember that, as hard as it can feel sometimes.
This has been edited and condensed for clarity.
No Expectations is a series about the pandemic’s impact on family planning and parenthood. Have a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little about your situation.