For pregnant essential workers, life’s a ‘nightmare.’ They fear for their unborn babies. - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

For pregnant essential workers, life’s a ‘nightmare.’ They fear for their unborn babies.

Taken from


May 15, 2020

The suffocating thoughts keep Michelle Bonilla awake at night, tossing and turning in her bed.

She is six months pregnant with her first child. And she is a Linden police officer, a first responder facing an elevated threat of exposure to the coronavirus.

Bonilla, 27, is considered an essential worker as a patrol officer and has to report for work each day to police headquarters, despite knowing at least three colleagues have contracted the virus. They are among the roughly 500 law enforcement members across the state who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Bonilla was placed on light duty — reviewing body cam footage exclusively — prior to the pandemic due to her pregnancy. But she says social distancing is impossible in the area of headquarters where she works.

The thought of getting infected, of possibly harming her baby, never subsides. It has turned what is supposed to a joyous occasion into a “nightmare,” Bonilla says.

“I am a hard worker, and I love the Linden Police Department,” Bonilla said in an email to NJ Advance Media. “I just want to do my job from home so I can contribute to the department without risking my baby’s life.”

Pregnant essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic are struggling with an emotional tug-of-war, forced to choose between the jobs they love and protecting their unborn children.

NJ Advance Media interviewed five pregnant essential employees in three different fields — a police officer, three nurses and a paramedic. Four of them say the fear they have for their unborn babies can be paralyzing.

But their employers are ignoring their requests for accommodations, those four say, forcing them to report for duty at their places of work. They all face a heightened risk of exposure to the coronavirus while most New Jersey residents shelter at home and practice social distancing.

Some of the pregnant women are burning through paid time off to stay home — days they hoped to save for maternity leave. One nurse scrambles to find co-workers who are willing to take her place in COVID-19 units, stirring feelings of guilt and shame.

But their employers say those women signed up to work on the front lines and in times of crisis, and the public counts on them. And many hospitals and police departments are grappling with staffing shortages as nurses and officers have been hit especially hard in the pandemic.