The woman at the heart of the Kyte Baby controversy is speaking out exclusively to TODAY.com.
Marissa says she was fired from the popular babywear company while her newborn son was in the NICU.
Her firing went viral after Kyte Baby founder Ying Liu posted two apology videos on TikTok, saying she made a “terrible mistake” in how she treated the new mom.
“It was never my intention to quit — I was willing to work from the NICU!” Marissa, 26, tells TODAY.com in her first media interview. “ I did tell them, ‘This is a slap in the face … My child is fighting for his life.’”
TODAY.com is withholding Marissa’s last name to protect her privacy.
Last week, Ying Liu, the founder of Kyte Baby, a Texas-based company that sells infant clothing made with bamboo, issued two apologies on TikTok, explaining that she rejected Marissa’s remote-work request while her adoptive newborn son was in the NICU. The first video got 2.8 million views and the second got 6 million views, and the controversy resonated with many viewers who empathized with Marissa’s struggle as the mom of a newborn in corporate America.
“All that matters is my son. I spend most of the day staring in his little incubator … he has been my focus. Our biggest prayer is for him to be OK,” says Marissa. “To me, honesty is so important, and some of the things they are saying on their end are just not truthful and makes me seem dishonest and that really bothers me.”
Kyte said in a Jan. 19 statement to TODAY.com that Marissa had been mistakenly denied remote work and “declined” the company’s offer to return to work. Marissa shared a different narrative: She says her managers at first agreed to let her work remotely and part-time while her son was in the hospital. Then, she says, as she was looking over the maternity leave paperwork, they called her up and fired her.
On Jan. 22, a Kyte Baby spokesperson tells TODAY.com that company founder Ying Liu “did not feel (Marissa’s) job could be done remotely and if she could not return to the office after her maternity leave, then we would part ways.”
The company spokesperson says the company told Marissa “a job would be there when she was ready to return.”
Marissa tells TODAY.com she was told, at the time she was fired, “‘When you get home and you decide that you want to work again, we would consider taking you back.’ Why say you’ll ‘consider it?’ I was never told I had a job.”
What Kyte Baby said
Marissa’s story broke into the public sphere on Jan. 18, when Kyte Baby founder Ying Liu made a public apology to Marissa in a video posted on the company TikTok account.
“Hey guys, it’s Ying. I wanted to hop on here to sincerely apologize to Marissa for how her parental leave was communicated and handled in the midst of her incredible journey of adoption and starting a family,” Liu said in the footage with more than two million views. “I have been trying to reach out to her to apologize directly as well.”
The founder said, “It was my oversight that she didn’t feel supported as we always have intended. As offered to her originally, we would find her a position whenever she decides to return to work.”
Liu stated that she would review Kyte’s HR policies and wished Marissa well.
TikTokers accused Liu of scrambling for damage control.
Liu revised her apology in a second TikTok video that day.
“OK, I’m going to do this,” Liu said in that video. “So, I just posted an official apology on TikTok. And the comments were right — it was scripted. I memorized it. I basically just read it, it wasn’t sincere and I’ve decided to go off-script.”
Liu said she took responsibility for what happened with Marissa.
“I was the one that made the decision to veto her request to go remote while she has to stay in the NICU to take care of her adopted baby,” she said. “And when I think back, this was a terrible decision —I was insensitive, selfish and was only focused on the fact that her job had always been done on-site and I did not see the possibility of doing it remotely.”
Liu added, “I cannot imagine the stress she had to go through, not having the option to go back to work and having to deal with a newborn in the NICU. So thinking back, it really was a terrible mistake. I own 100% of that.”
The Kyte Baby founder concluded in a message to Marissa:
“We will continue to pay you benefits as well as the remote position that you have requested. I understand if you don’t want to come back to work anymore but we will continue to pay you as if you were working remotely for us, for those hours that you had proposed until you’re ready to come back. And your original position is always open for you when you come back.”
In the comments and in response videos, hundreds of people vowed to boycott the brand and to remove Kyte products from their baby registries.
What Marissa says
Marissa says she and her husband spent three years trying to conceive using reproductive assistance such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). After three miscarriages, the couple pursued adoption and last year, they became parents to a baby boy named Judah who was born prematurely at 22 weeks.
Marissa shared with Liu that she and her husband were exploring adoption, a Kyte spokesperson says, adding that Liu anonymously contributed $1,000 to Marissa’s GoFundMe campaign.
While Judah was in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital located approximately nine hours from her home and Kyte Baby’s office, Marissa says she alerted Liu and other managers, then went to see her baby.
Marissa says that in a Jan. 5 video call (which Liu didn’t attend), she and two higher-ups established her new, remote schedule.
“We set up my entire schedule hour-by-hour and even set check-in dates going forward.” Marissa adds, “I was under the impression we were creating a new schedule based on what had already been discussed and approved.”
After the call, says Marissa, she realized that she had questions about Kyte Baby’s maternity leave policy. Marissa was concerned about her eligibility, and noted that the version she had been provided of Kyte Baby’s policy only applied to biological parents.
In a Jan. 5 Slack exchange viewed by TODAY.com, Marissa asked an HR manager about Kyte Baby’s maternity leave policy. She was told that as an adoptive parent, Marissa was eligible; the HR manager asked if she wanted to take maternity leave at that moment or wait until her son was home from the hospital. Marissa responded that she would discuss the options with her husband.
That remote work option presented to Marissa was “pending approval from the CEO,” a Kyte spokesperson said in an email to TODAY.com on Jan. 22. “Ying did not feel her job could be done remotely and if she could not return to the office after her maternity leave, then we would part ways.”
Following that conversation with the HR manager, Marissa says, “I was fired about 8 hours later.”
“I was told, ‘Hey, unfortunately, we won’t be able to (make this arrangement) and for that reason, we will take this as your resignation,’” says Marissa, referring to a phone call with higher-ups that didn’t include Liu.
Marissa said she was in tears and told them, “This isn’t what I wanted.”
“I said, ‘I’m not resigning and I’m willing to work … It was never my intention to quit,’” says Marissa. “They were stumbling… Then they said, ‘We don’t want you to think you’re doing the wrong thing by choosing Judah.’”
A Kyte spokesman described that conversation in a Jan. 22 email to TODAY.com: “At this time Ying did not feel that her job could be done remotely given that she was an in-studio coordinator. A company manager expressed their empathy and said that she understood and if Marissa needed to choose, it should be her son.”
Marissa tells TODAY.com: “I interrupted them … and said, ‘Not once did I ever doubt my decision to chose my son. Not once. I would choose him again and again … I never doubted that decision but I wasn’t expecting this.”
The aftermath: Marissa’s not going back
Liu’s TikTok apologies took Marissa by surprise, in part because she doesn’t use the platform.
Marissa says Liu attempted to reach her by phone twice. When they couldn’t connect because Marissa was with her son’s medical team, Marissa says she sent Liu a text explaining that she was busy and felt more comfortable communicating in writing. She says Liu wrote back asking to personally apologize over the phone; Marissa says she provided her personal email address to Liu, who she says didn’t reach out.
“This is correct,” a Kyte Baby spokesperson responded via email. “Ying reached out to apologize over the phone and is still open to having a conversation.”
After Liu’s videos were posted, says Marissa, she emailed Liu and cc’d Kyte HR to acknowledge the TikTok videos. Marissa says she clarified that she won’t be returning to Kyte Baby, “despite the new offer to do so” and says she declined Liu’s offer to pay her salary for the hours initially proposed. Marissa says Liu didn’t respond.
“No company is perfect, but … I don’t think that’s a healthy work environment for me,” says Marissa.
“It’s important for people to know that both biological and adoptive parents are families,” Marissa tells TODAY.com. “Companies should recognize that children and families always come before career and that flexibility may be required when life gets hard. That’s compassion.”