While Marshella Pounds was on a business trip, already in her second trimester of pregnancy, she received a call from her doctor asking her to repeat a blood test because the results from the first one were concerning. She returned to the doctor, did the blood test, and then was sent to see a specialist, where she found out that her baby’s growth was restricted. What followed after was an extended stay at the hospital on bed rest and a fight for her baby’s life.
In this episode, Marshella opens up to Tivi Jones about her experience as a micro-preemie mom, the lessons she learned, dealing with grief, profound resilience, life during the pandemic, and finding herself again after three years of a heartbreaking nightmare.
LIFE DURING THE PANDEMIC
Marshella works as a Human Resources professional with experience in Talent Acquisition and Learning + Development. Leveraging her work experience in Higher Education, she made the transition to corporate university recruiting in 2016. From there, she has had the opportunity to recruit top talent for one of the world’s largest healthcare companies.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she used to travel a lot to many different states, especially in the Northeast, to recruit the most talented applicants to the universities. When COVID hit, her workflow was turned upside down.
Marshella’s last professional development trip was at the end of February 2020. There were COVID cases already reported outside of the U.S. but no one knew what was going to happen. She was supposed to go on another work trip, but with the COVID-19 situation intensifying, she didn’t feel comfortable anymore as he had a two-year-old immunocompromised child at home. Even before the shutdown, she told her boss she wouldn’t go on that trip. A few days later, the company prohibited everyone from traveling, and by the time March came, she was working remotely. All of the events became virtual and Marshella grew a lot professionally while learning to switch event strategies.
There was one particular event that Marshella was the proudest of – she organized and led a 4-hour long event for all of the applicants. “I had to give all of my energy,” she says. “Because you are not getting any energy from the audience, you can’t see them.” She was so exhausted after the event that she took the rest of the day off. The event received a lot of positive feedback and generated many hires. It was a successful transition into virtual events.
At home, Marshella found balance for a couple of reasons – her husband, Jeff, never stopped working on location as he works for a large healthcare company that does COVID-19 testing, and her son, Emerson, after a while, continued going to his medical daycare, PPEC, where they have registered nurses.
What I’ve learned in my 35 years of life is that life is about transitions. You have to embrace that,” she says.
In the past five years, Marshella’s life has been all about transitions. But this story is not about career transitions. In life, there are things far more important than work – family.
While Marshella was on a business trip, already in her second trimester of pregnancy, she received a call from her doctor asking her to repeat the blood test because the results from the first one were concerning. She returned to the doctor, did the blood test again, and was then sent to see a specialist. There, she found out that she had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) when a baby in the womb does not grow as expected. Marshella was admitted to the hospital in the summer of 2017 and put on bed rest. She didn’t know what to expect. The doctors were waiting to see whether she would need an emergency C-section depending on if the baby was in distress or not.
Marshella had been in a hospital for a week and was really tired of the uncertainty. She wanted to know what was going to happen next. The doctors said she was mildly preeclamptic. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. She says her blood pressure was fine, but there were other signs of preeclampsia. Soon, she went in for a sonogram.
“That was the day I will never forget,” Marshella says. “The doctor was like ‘I'm not trying to be negative, but I just really want you to understand the situation - we just won’t know until we get him out.’”
She went back to her hospital room and told her husband, “‘I just want this to be over. I just want to know, one way or the other, what we are dealing with.’ I was tired of being in a limbo. Watch what you say because God will give you what you ask for,” she says.
Two hours after she said that her gynecologist came into the room and announced they will be performing an emergency C-section immediately. Her blood showed that her liver enzymes were increasing, which was a sign of preeclampsia.
Marshella had been living in a hospital room and had made it feel like home by decorating it. Her friends even brought her posters.
"That’s a piece of advice for anyone who needs to have an extended stay at the hospital, whether it's pregnancy-related or not – bring all the positive vibes that you can. Make it your own space,” she says.
Once she was told that she was going into the labor and delivery room, her husband Jeff had to take all of the stuff from the room out. “I literally remember I was sitting in a wheelchair and they were rolling me out and I was thinking that I feel like I'm in Grey's Anatomy right now. I had them laughing,” she says.
Tivi laughs, and says, “That is one thing about you Marsh, you always bring such good energy. Your spirit is just nine out of 10. You bring in the light, the humor. And I know that has served you in your life.”
“That’s part of what got me through this experience,” she says.
Her son, Emerson, came into this world on August 7, 2022, at 26 weeks. “He was crying so then we were crying because we didn’t expect to hear him crying. We didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “Jeff and I both took a breath and then cried. And I just felt like he was going to be OK.”
Marshella didn’t get to meet Emerson right away because she was in recovery and he was in an incubator. She also didn’t get to hold him until three months later. “I have a picture of his little hand just reaching up on my chest. And he was just so little,’ she says.
Emerson weighed just over a pound when he was born. Marshella explains that babies lose weight in the first couple of days, and Emerson didn’t really have weight to lose. “So it was just really scary. Even though I had that feeling he was going to be OK, I just knew it was a long road ahead, she says. “He had all the tubes. He was in the incubator. He had the lights to help prevent jaundice.”
What gave Marshella comfort during the pregnancy was that if she could make it through the first trimester of pregnancy, she would be okay. But she was barely in her second trimester when she received the call from the doctor that was going to change everything.
“I learned that pregnancy is very unpredictable,” Marshella says.
She admits that she has been a person who likes control, and this experience taught her a lesson about relinquishing control and going along with the situation.
Emerson spent 191 days in the NICO. He only came home after 6 months with a tracheostomy tube inserted into his neck for breathing, with a G Tube in his stomach for feeding, and he was also on a ventilator. “So needless to say, we had to become pretty ‘medical’ and we are not medical people,” she laughs.
The parents had to learn how to take care of Emerson, how to clean his trach, and what to do in case he pulled out any of the tubes.
RELATIONSHIP WITH GRIEF
Many people assume that you can only feel grief after someone you care about dies. But Tivi reminds us that grief can happen any time your relationship with something you care about changes. How has grief shown up for Marshella?
“It’s been there all along,” she says. “It’s just that I was not acknowledging it. I don’t recommend it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic stopped many people in their tracks and gifted them with time to reflect. Marshella says she started going through a rough patch in June 2020. In 2020, Emerson had his trach removed and he was not on a ventilator anymore. He still has a G tube so they are working on getting him to a point where he’s eating and drinking enough by mouth so it can be removed.
Sometime in the summer of 2020, Marshella had a frustrating day and passionately talked to her husband Jeff about their different approaches to caring about Emerson.
I remember I said to Jeff, ‘I just want to know when does this end? When do we stop being preemie parents? When are we just parents?’ And what I realized was that we were never going to not be preemie parents. That’s always gonna be who we are. Things are going to affect Emerson differently because of his history of being a micro-preemie,” Marshella remembers.
A month later, she had a breakdown. Emerson started getting rashes and his hair was falling out so she took him to a dermatologist. He had another doctor’s appointment coming soon but had just gotten a new rash so Marshella called the doctor’s office to have the visit rescheduled for sooner. On the day of the appointment, she got a call from the doctor’s office saying that if Emerson were to come in that day, he was going to be seen by a nurse practitioner and the nurse practitioner really wanted him to be seen by a doctor instead.
“I was calm on the phone with her, rescheduled it, but when I got off the phone, I balled. Just busted out in tears. My baby’s hair is falling out!” Marshella shares.
Feeling helpless, she called her husband immediately but he couldn’t even understand what she was saying because she was crying uncontrollably.
“What I realized after was that my grief was coming up. It had been kind of brewing. And the reason it had been brewing was because I never addressed it. So shortly after that, I started going to therapy. I recommend therapy for everyone!” Marshella says.
There was no time for self-care because Marshella’s main focus was saving her baby’s life, learning how to take care of him, and advocating for him. In 2020, as she was planning her goals for the year, she made self-care a priority. At first, it was simple things, like going to get a pedicure or a wax. Then, it was important for her to hang out with her friends. “Most of my friends live in North Carolina because that's where I'm from. But I have a small group of friends here in Florida who have become like family,” she says.
She used to love reading and is finding the time to do that again. She also loves dancing and is trying to find a dance class in the area to keep herself active. If you know Marshella, you also know what a big wine lover she is. “Jesus turned water into wine,” she jokes. During the pandemic, she took a virtual wine class, which she loved.
“Sometimes self-care is just sitting on the couch with a glass of wine,” she says.
Marshella says it has been incredibly helpful to get professional help and have a third-party perspective. She realized that she never dealt with her trauma and didn’t allow herself to grief.
“I never grieved that my mommyhood journey was like nothing I ever thought it was going to be. So it wasn’t until 2020 until I finally realized – ‘you didn’t deal with this. You didn’t allow yourself to grieve the fact that I didn’t have maternity photos. I didn’t have a baby shower. I couldn’t hold him when he was just born; didn’t get to hold him until he was 3 months old and couldn’t bring him home until six months later.’ I just got tossed into something that I had to navigate. I had no playbook. I had no one in my life who was close to me who had experienced that.”
She says once people found out about Emerson, many reached out to her telling her about other people they knew who had gone through similar experiences.
“And that’s when I also realized that we don’t talk about things that we go through enough. It’s definitely a Black woman culture thing – to be the strong one. We don’t have time to be crying. We don’t have time to wallow in our sorrows. So you can feel how you want to feel, but at the end of the day, you gotta get it done. And as a mom, that’s like to the Nth degree, whatever power you want it to be,” she shares.
The mother still finds joy and positivity in the experience. She says there’s always something that you can either celebrate or be grateful for. “Emerson came home on Valentine’s day. So Valentine’s day is always going to be a special day now,” she says.
Marshella finally gave herself permission to grieve.
“And I also learned that I do have triggers sometimes. Some days I'm OK to look at people's maternity photos and some days I might see one and it just hits me a little raw. And it's OK. It's a feeling I might still have from time to time. First, you have to acknowledge it and then allow yourself to grieve - whether that's crying about it or talking to somebody – however that looks for you.”
As Marshella didn’t have anyone who could understand what she was going through at the time, she decided to write a blog, Medical Mommy, to give hope to other mothers who may have a similar experience.
Emerson is now a happy and healthy 4-year-old, a brave fighter, who is full of life.
I have never met a woman more resilient and more full of life than Marshella. Her positive energy and the light that she brings into every room she walks into are contagious! I hope that you loved this episode as much as I have and learned something from it. Some takeaways that I had were:
- Never lose hope.
- Stay resilient!
- Take time to reflect.
- Recognize and deal with grief.
- And most importantly… get a therapist!!!
Demi Vitkute is a Media Editorial Manager at Hey Awesome Girl and Director of Hey Awesome Girl with Tivi Jones show. She’s a passionate storyteller, fashion aficionado + crazy cat mom trying to change the world. She’s a journalist, editor, and media consultant. Demi is the founder of The Urban Watch Magazine and has written for The Washington Post, Inside Hook, and Promo Magazine, among others. You can follow her on IG and Twitter @demiivit.