‘She Never Held Her Baby’: Why We Need To Protect Working Pregnant Women

Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong was a nurse who tested positive for Covid-19 and died shortly after giving birth. Now, her husband is calling for change.
Ernest Boateng and his late wife, Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong
Ernest Boateng via PA
Ernest Boateng and his late wife, Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong

Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, a 28-year-old nurse from Bedfordshire, worked throughout the first lockdown before she tested positive for Covid-19. She was 35 weeks pregnant.

She had an emergency C-section to deliver her daughter and died shortly afterwards. Now, with the UK in a second national lockdown, her husband is pleading for the government to better protect vulnerable pregnant women.

Ernest Boateng is calling on the government to make it a legal requirement that all pregnant women who are 20 weeks gestation or greater are entitled to either work from home, or are suspended on full pay.

“She was never able to hold her baby daughter,” Boateng has written in an open letter to Boris Johnson. “My wife has been taken from me and my family and I do not want her death to be in vain.”

Boateng’s letter quotes research from French hospitals, which suggests those in the second half of pregnancy – from 20 weeks – are five times more likely to be admitted to ICU than those in the first half of pregnancy, and that maternal Covid-19 is associated with a three times greater risk of premature birth.

“The guidance for pregnant women has been confusing throughout this pandemic,” Boateng’s letter continues. “The current guidance continues to list pregnant women as vulnerable and says if they cannot work from home, they should stay socially distanced from others. We know that this is not happening.”

His call for change comes as new research from campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed shows 57% of pregnant women in work do not feel safe.

Just over half (53%) of pregnant women who work outside of the home said they have had a risk assessment done. Of those, only three quarters (73%) said they believe their employers are following it.

The new survey of more than 5,000 pregnant women shows just 1% of those who work outside the home have been suspended from work on safety grounds because of their pregnancy. The group has described this as “an unthinkable drop” from April, when this figure stood at 76%.

The study also reported that a huge 54% of pregnant women who do not feel safe at work have admitted to not understanding their legal rights.

“The data shows that pregnant women simply do not know which way to turn,” says Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed.

“Employers need to look after the safety of their pregnant staff, particularly those in the later stages of pregnancy and Black, Asian and ethnically diverse pregnant women.

“Mary died because she was at work when she shouldn’t have been, she was not safe, we need to act now to ensure that other women do not suffer this same fate.”

HuffPost UK contacted the government for a response to Ernest Boateng’s letter. A spokesperson said all employers have a responsibility to carry out a risk assessment and any expectant mothers who are worried about their working environment should get in touch with The Health and Safety Executive.

“HSE will intervene where necessary and remind employers of their responsibilities to make sure pregnant women are properly supported through the pandemic,” the said. “If necessary safety measures cannot be put in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, pregnant women should be placed on paid leave.”