TORONTO -- Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic hairstylist Kaitlin Ward has had to overcome adversity.

With her work closing due to provincially mandated shutdowns earlier this year, the new mom is now learning she doesn’t qualify for parental leave benefits and will have to return to work much sooner than expected.

“It’s heartbreaking – it just feels super unfortunate that I have no option now and I’m being pressured to go back,” said Ward, who welcomed her first daughter Gordie-Rose in August and is now preparing to return to work in December.

The Keswick, Ont. hairstylist had relied on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and employment benefits programs to supplement her income while the salon she worked at was closed.

She returned to work briefly in the spring, only to find herself out of work again amid another provincial shutdown. Ward did not return in July when personal-care services reopened because it was too close to her due date.

When applying for parental leave, Ward said government officials told her she didn’t qualify for parental leave benefits which are earned with a minimum of 600 hours worked the year prior.

“I feel robbed from something that I’ve contributed to and kind of earned,” said Ward. “It’s crazy to think I’m entitled to only three-and-a half months with my daughter.”

In the wake of the pandemic, the federal government temporarily changed the requirement to 120 insurable hours, providing a credit of 480 insured hours to help new and expecting mothers meet the required 600 insured hours of work.

Ward found out that credit was applied to her first EI claim in December 2020, which she says was never explained to her.

“That credit was given to me in December unneeded – so then now when I go to apply again I will need the full 600 hours, which I will never qualify for this year because I only worked six weeks.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion told CTV News Toronto “to be eligible for EI maternity and parental benefits, a person normally needs at least 600 hours of insurable employment in the 52 weeks prior to the start of their benefits or since their last EI claim, whichever is shorter.”

Government officials also say “to be eligible for additional EI benefits, a claimant must have accumulated the required number of hours to establish a new benefit period.”

Starting on September 26, 2021, the number of hours of insurable employment to qualify for benefits will be 420 hours.

However, Ward will still not qualify under those conditions.

“It’s about finding the balance fighting for what’s right…and enjoying what time I have with my daughter."

Now, she’s trying to make the best of the limited time she has with daughter before returning to work.