#MindrMama Marisa Brahney is an Emmy Award-winning television news anchor for News 12 New Jersey. She is a wife to her husband Tony, and a mom to 3 children – 2 boys, Kennedy (2) and Ashton (1) as well as a daughter, Charlotte, who she lost unexpectedly at birth. She lives with her family in New Jersey, where she grew up, and has now settled after working at TV stations around the country throughout her career. We caught up with Marisa to talk about love, loss, and her dazzling career in front of (and sometimes behind!) the camera.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a news anchor. How did you get to where you are today?
It definitely has been a journey! I knew I wanted to be in this business from the time I was young. While in college in Baltimore, I was fortunate to intern at Dateline and a local ABC affiliate. The experience I gained as an intern enabled me to make a demo reel, which I sent as a resume tape (yes, it was a VHS!) to small, entry-level stations all over the country after graduation.
I took the first on-air job I got, in snowy Binghamton, NY. It was a “one-man-band” reporting job (which means I did all my own camera work and editing) for $9 an hour. I worked at Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble the rest of the week to pay my rent. Within a few months, I was made full-time, and I stayed there for two years. From there, I moved to Ft. Myers, FL, to the NBC affiliate, which is an extremely competitive station and TV market. That’s where I cut my teeth and learned a ton about the business.
While in Florida, I fell in love with one of the producers at my station who was also from the New Jersey shore. We got married and knew we wanted to move on to larger markets and back closer to our families. In 2010, we moved to Philadelphia and both got jobs at the NBC station there. It was an amazing opportunity professionally for us both. I reported there for three years, gaining national exposure by covering major stories like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, before getting the opportunity to anchor at News 12 New Jersey, covering my home state.
I love covering the area I grew up in and where I am now raising my own family. This business requires a lot of moving around, working all kinds of crazy hours (I worked weekends and mornings for 7 years which meant a lot of 2 AM wake-ups) and a lot of sacrifice, missing holidays and family gatherings and little things along the way. It still requires a lot of hard choices, and I’m doing my best to balance my love and passion for what I do with my most important role – as a mother and wife.
You have written about the heartbreaking loss of your daughter Charlotte shortly after her birth in 2014. How did you cope with such an unimaginable tragedy and move forward?
Losing our daughter completely changed me as a person. It was my first pregnancy, which was completely healthy and normal. She was a week or so late, and after a normal, fast labor with no signs of distress, she wasn’t breathing when she was born. She aspirated meconium in the womb and despite doctors frantically trying to save her, they couldn’t.
Going to the hospital filled with the excitement and wonder of becoming a mother and finally meeting your baby to leaving with empty arms is an experience unlike any other. It was shocking, devastating, traumatic and affected every part of my life, even things most people would never think about. Everything reminded me of her, of being pregnant. I couldn’t go into Target…for months. It was filled with babies, and baby things and memories of stocking up on diapers and indulging in my random pregnancy sweet tooth cravings for decaf caramel macchiatos. Seemingly everywhere I turned there were baby girls. All my friends who I was pregnant with at the same time had their beautiful baby girls. The royal family named their baby Charlotte, my daughter’s name, and I had to talk about it on the air over and over and over.
To say that a loss like this is all-consuming is an understatement. At first, my husband and I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other every day as best we could. I leaned a lot on my family and friends. They were supportive and thoughtful and incredible in so many huge and little ways that lightened our days in ways I still haven’t been able to properly thank them for.
Connecting with other moms who had been through the same heartbreak was invaluable for me. Being able to talk, cry, and now parent with moms who understand what we’ve been through has been crucial in coping with life after loss. I try to offer the same support to others.
Talking about Charlotte and sharing our experience helps me feel close to her. Because of my job, I had no choice but to be open about my story, since I had a full-term pregnancy that our viewers watched and celebrated with me. When we lost Charlotte, our viewers’ compassion and support was absolutely amazing and humbling. Many have contacted me personally over the years, sharing their own stories of baby loss, or asking for support or guidance on how to help a friend or family member.
I have found that my job gives me a unique platform and opportunity to spread awareness and understanding about pregnancy and infant loss, which is far more common than most people realize. One in four women experiences it. One in 160 babies in the U.S. is stillborn, and there are roughly 23,000 infant deaths each year. I have done a number of stories on the issue to help foster a more open dialogue.
I’m also involved in an organization called the TEARS Foundation, which raises money for funeral costs and support for families who have lost babies. One of our favorite days of the year is the TEARS Foundation New Jersey Rock and Walk. We walk in honor of Charlotte, and it’s such a special day remembering her and raising money in her memory to support other families who share in our heartbreak.
We are so sorry for your unthinkable loss, and in awe of your resilience in the face of it. You now have two wonderful boys, Kennedy and Ashton – how has becoming a parent changed or impacted the way you approach your career?
I have heard it said that becoming a mother breaks your heart wide open in a very vulnerable way, and I completely feel that every day. The difficult, heartbreaking stories that we cover day in and day out, especially involving children, affect me more now than ever before. It’s hard to not take that home with me, especially given my own experience with losing a child.
The business I’m in tends to be all-encompassing and that too has changed drastically since becoming a mom. My family, my kids – they come first. But there are many times where I feel pulled in several directions, stretched too thin and feel guilty about not giving enough in one realm or another. I know this is such a common theme for working mamas. The struggle of the juggle is real. And hard. And it’s all a big work in progress that I aim to do better with every day. Some days I succeed, and some days I fail. I’m learning to be okay with that, and just be confident in what I’m doing. To accept that when I’m doing my best, it is enough for everyone. My boys, Kennedy and Ashton, are my everything and I’m constantly trying to be a better me – in every area of my life – for them.
At Mindr, we are focused on building community and finding your "tribe". Where have you found your parenthood community?
I am so lucky to have an amazing group of cousins and girlfriends scattered all over the country who lift me up and keep me sane daily through group texts, video chats and phone calls. They have helped me with everything from breastfeeding and pumping-at-work questions to hashing out issues around sleep and boosting household immunity in these sickness-ridden winter months. And they always make me laugh and remind me I’m not alone in times that feel heavy or overwhelming. They’re all in the thick of it with me and having them is everything!
My sisters-in-law are both super moms of three who are here in New Jersey and have set an amazing example for me in motherhood – they’re raising our nieces and nephews to be such great kids for my boys to look up to. And as I mentioned, social media has led me to fellow baby loss mamas who are also navigating the world of parenting after loss, which comes with a lot of its own challenges and conflicting emotions. I’ve also made a lot of mom friends professionally through my work (more on that in a minute) who I share a lot in common with – fellow working mamas who are trying to juggle everything like I am and who are so supportive of one another. I love having them to bounce personal AND professional ideas off of, and they keep me encouraged to keep going and growing as a mama.
Your News 12 "Moms Minute" segment has highlighted the work of some amazing mamas, including our own founder Sarah Lux-Lee. How did you come up with the idea for this segment and what has been your favorite part of producing it? Have there been any challenges?
This segment has been so rewarding for me and I feel so grateful to be able to highlight so many awesome mamas doing great things here in New Jersey and beyond. When I first started anchoring the mid-day shows, my producer at the time (also a mom of two boys) and I had both been thinking a there was a need for a moms segment on the station. We pitched the idea to our news director and made it happen. That was almost 2 years ago now.
Since then, I’ve had so much fun producing the segment weekly – finding important, relevant and fun topics that resonate with moms, and meeting so many incredible mothers who blow me away with their dedication to their children, their passion, their business savvy, and their creativity. That has really been the best part for me – networking with other moms and learning their tips and tricks, and really just expanding my circle and tribe to include moms who inspire me and who I know inspire our viewers.
I would say I’ve actually been surprised at how few challenges there have been in coming up with segment ideas and booking guests. As the word has spread about the segment, moms reach out to me all the time (thank you social media) with suggestions and pitches. Those pitches, along with my own parenting experience, allow the ideas to really flow.
Reporting the news and telling stories has been a passion of yours for a long time. What advice can you give to the Mindr community about pursuing a passion project? Do you have any tips for balancing a passion project with motherhood?
A mentor gave me this advice when I was starting in the business, and I always give this advice to interns – just try it. Best case scenario, it’s a perfect fit, a huge success and a chapter in your life that you love! Or, you may decide or realize it’s not for you, or doesn’t work for your life, or isn’t what you thought it would be. And what’s the harm in that? You’ll grow from it. You’ll learn something. You’ll have that experience under your belt.
I have, however, found it a little harder to take my own advice and jump headfirst into something since becoming a mom, because as we all know, our decisions – big and small – all have a ripple effect to the little people who we love more than anything. And with that in mind, balance becomes a key word! I would say I’m continually amazed by all the entrepreneur moms I meet and I constantly look to learn from them.
What is something you think needs to change about the way our culture treats motherhood/parenthood?
Support for working parents and the cost of childcare are huge issues that need to be addressed. While not every parent wants or needs to work, many parents don’t have a choice financially. Even for those who do, the costs of childcare are staggering and force many families to make hard choices about whether it’s “worth it” for moms to work. That can often force women away from careers they are passionate about and that make a difference in our communities, our country, and our children’s future.
It shouldn’t have to be an “either/or” scenario for so many in this country. I’m inspired to see the conversation about this evolving, and I hope it continues to move in a positive direction. I think it is really important for moms to come together and unify – especially in the age of social media. Supporting each other by saying “I see you, I see all you do for your kids, I see how much you love them” can go such a LONG way for another mom. We need to extend grace to ourselves and each other and remember we’re all just doing the best we can for our kids.