When Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau hotel closed down due to COVID-19, Claudia Pieretti could only focus on one thing: she was eight months pregnant with no income.
“I remember I would cry thinking that I was going to bring in my baby without having a job,” she said. “And I was terrified of that.”
Pieretti, 30, lost her job just a few weeks before giving birth on April 1. For most of 2020, she balanced the pressures of unemployment and the pandemic on her shoulders — all while fulfilling the duties of a first-time mother.
Pieretti, who grew up in Miami, started working at the Fontainebleau at the beginning of college when a friend told her about a job opening. She began as a restaurant hostess at the hotel nine years ago and worked her way up to a supervisor position at the hotel’s clothing boutique, Ida and Harry.
In early March 2020, she began to hear rumors of a shutdown. She said her boss told her to stop coming into work because cases were rising and her maternity leave was scheduled to start the following month anyway.
About a week later, Pieretti said, everyone who worked at the hotel — with the exception of a few managers — was being laid off. Her maternity leave was canceled.
“I thought my insurance would have been secured,” Pieretti said. “But all that went out the window. I was told that I was just laid off and that if and when the hotel reopened, they would call me.”
The Fontainebleau reopened in June 2020, but no one called Pieretti back for months.
Thankfully her fiancé, who works at a hotel in Aventura, was able to keep his job — and insurance — throughout the pandemic. His place of employment never got shut down.
Although Pieretti’s family and friends also offered assistance, Pieretti’s unemployment benefits and her fiancé’s insurance were enough to keep them afloat while she gave birth and cared for the baby.
But the journey was still anything but easy. As time passed waiting for a call from the Fontainebleau, Pieretti started to lose hope that she would ever get her job back. She made plans to begin searching for work if she was still unemployed by the new year.
With the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, she found herself sacrificing social support for her child’s health. She didn’t see her mother until a month after the baby was born — in the parking lot of the doctor’s office with a mask on.
“I didn’t have that same support that a lot of women do right when they give birth — when we’re so sleep-deprived,” Pieretti said. “It made me feel really lonely.”
Her lifelong best friend, Kimberly Fraga, who stayed at Pieretti’s apartment to dog-sit while she was in labor, was one of the only people around when Pieretti needed it the most.
“I felt frustrated and sad for her,” Fraga said. “Not only was she dealing with the stress of pregnancy, but also the stress of the unknown, with the pandemic just starting.”
“To then see her let go by an employer she had worked so hard for and was loyal to for many years — it was disappointing,” Fraga said.
But Pieretti’s situation isn’t at all unique. Across the country, women in the workforce — especially mothers — were hit hardest by financial setbacks caused by the pandemic. NPR reported last month that the ratio of women in the workforce was at its lowest point since 1988 — a fact that is particularly disheartening as Women’s History Month comes to a close.
In November, a manager asked Pieretti to return to the Fontainebleau in December. She is now working part-time in the buying office, but she’s already busy, she said. She is hopeful that she will be able to work more hours by the fall.
She is also now the proud mother of a baby boy named Caio, who is about to turn one year old.
“He’s the best,” Pieretti said. “I cry thinking about when I first laid eyes on him. Motherhood is super hard — super, super hard — but it’s all worth it once you see them smiling at you.”