Woman took just two days maternity leave due to Covid-19 impact on her business

Case highlights the pressure small business operators are under due to coronavirus
Woman took just two days maternity leave due to Covid-19 impact on her business

Catriona Lysaght with her newborn daughter Georgie, working at home near Buttevant, Co Cork. File picture: Eddie O’Hare

A small business owner in Munster has said the severe impact of Covid-19 on her business meant she could only take two days of maternity leave following the birth of her daughter.

Catriona Lysaght gave birth to her fourth baby last Thursday but had to return to work on Monday to ensure her speech and language business can continue to operate through the pandemic.

Catriona established The Speech Centre in Dublin in 2010. Now based near Buttevant, North Cork, her business has grown and provides services in eight locations around Ireland including in Bantry.

Her intention was to “step back” from the business for a short time when the baby arrived, but because of Covid-19 and the pressures it has brought to small businesses around the country, she now finds herself having to be there for her staff and in a prime position to ensure her practice survives the pandemic.

“The Speech Centre was my first baby, I suppose, and a lot of people say that about their own businesses but I put my heart and soul into it and grew it,” she told the Irish Examiner

“Since then I have been growing my family as well.

“We had our fourth baby on Thursday; with all the other children I worked through the typical maternity leave; the first one, I had a few months off, with the second and third I had a few weeks to myself — which was lovely — and I had hoped with this one that I could structure the business in a way that would allow me to step back from it for a few months and enjoy what is going to be our last baby.”

Catriona Lysaght with her newborn daughter Georgie, partner Donal Healy and their three daughters, from left, Libby (5), Tessa (7) and Sadie (3) at home. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Catriona Lysaght with her newborn daughter Georgie, partner Donal Healy and their three daughters, from left, Libby (5), Tessa (7) and Sadie (3) at home. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

However, the pandemic forced her to rethink her maternity plans.

“Things turned out different because the Covid-19 pandemic started and all of the structures that I put in place in the business to give myself that bit of a break from it, went by the wayside,” she said.

“Suddenly funds were very tight and it became very difficult to work out a plan to stay open and then how to reopen after the restrictions were lifted in June.

“I really had to cut back on as much expenditure as I could, which included, unfortunately, everything that would have given me a bit of a break when the baby came along.”

The ESRI published a report this month which said small and medium-sized businesses were facing a shortfall of between €6bn and €10bn.

Report author Conor O’Toole said the pandemic has been an unprecedented economic shock for SMEs, with nearly one in every two small firms suffering a loss during the lockdown phase.

“While many firms had access to their own cash savings to help survive the period, these buffers are likely to deplete leaving many firms struggling to survive,” he said.

Catriona said that since the practice reopened in July, “things have been going OK” but that remote working was more difficult for speech and language therapists.

She said: “You can’t really make the gains in speech therapy remotely that you can make in a face-to-face situation.”

“If you have a child who has a language impairment and finds it hard to understand what you are saying at the best of times — if you remove the face-to-face element of that from them, you are removing so many communication cues from them.

“We can’t upskill fast enough to be able to suddenly switch over to remote therapy and also it is very hard to explain it all to parents and to explain how it will all work,” she said.

Catriona said that despite the supports that are there for new mothers, it is very difficult to step back from your own business.

While I am on maternity leave I don’t have an income, which is fine but at the same time I have to work to keep my business alive so that I can go back afterwards.

“I can’t just sit back and expect other people to care about my business as much as I do or to nurture it — while I’m off — in the same way that I would,” she said.

“There are great supports out there though; the maternity supports are really good; the new paternity two-week leave is fantastic — that makes such a difference to a new mum."

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