During the summer of 2021, when the ultrasound tech told me, “This baby is looking pretty girly,” I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t comprehend that we were going to be blessed with a baby girl. When our daughter, Lola Blake Long, was born, I remember thinking to myself, “She’s so perfect. If I look away, she’ll just disappear.”
She looked nothing like me. Her bright blue eyes and white blonde hair were a stark contrast to my nearly black eyes, dark hair and olive skin. Yes, my husband is blue eyed, but he’s brunette. I prayed for the most beautiful and perfect baby girl, and that’s exactly what I got. There was no other explanation to her angelic nature, besides stating that she was simply God showing off his craftsmanship. Everywhere we took Lola, people couldn’t help but stare. She was the baby doll I never had. With our two little boys (Ashton, 5 and Addison, 3) and our baby girl, life was sweet. It really felt surreal.
Then one day, about a week after her first birthday, Lola started vomiting. It came out of nowhere. Along with vomiting, she got lethargic. But what was really scary was how fast she was breathing. I had this uneasy feeling that it wasn’t just a simple virus. I took her to the ER, and they sent us home and told us to give her plenty of snuggles, rest and TLC. So we did. I took her to the nurse practitioner the next day for her one year old check up. She told me it was a virus and to keep an eye on it. Another day went by, and she still wasn’t getting better. I took her back to the ER. They put a catheter in, and it came back that she had a UTI. She was put on antibiotics and Zofran and sent home. But then another day went by, and she got significantly worse. We took her back to the ER about 36 hours later. She hadn’t peed in eight hours at this point. We were told she needed IV antibiotics and fluids, along with her Zofran. After that, she would feel like a “whole new baby,” we were told. Except she continued to decline. I expressed concern after worry after fear, but the medical staff assured me that I didn’t need to worry. That night, Lola and I both tried to sleep in the lumpy hospital bed, but neither one of us could. Lola was exhausted, but she woke up frequently just to cry. I felt helpless. At about 5 AM, her nurse came to check on us and to repeat blood work. Suddenly, the little yellow line on Lola’s diaper began to turn a faint blue. I was so excited because my daughter was finally urinating. But then, a non-responsive look washed over her little face. I begged the nurse to take a good look at her. She shined her small flashlight in Lola’s eyes, and Lola didn’t follow it. She stared straight ahead. The nurse went to grab “another set of hands.” It was too late. About ten seconds later, my daughter took one last very deep breath, and went limp in my arms. I screamed, I cried, and I prayed as a very pale faced nurse took my baby out of my arms. My husband told me later on that I fell to the floor. He picked me up and put me in a chair, where I shivered violently. You know how a woman will shiver when she’s in labor? The same thing happens when you watch your child code. I prayed. Apparently I called my mom, who is a cardiac ICU nurse. She came within ten minutes, asking the staff how we got to this point. They worked on our baby girl for an hour, but her pulse never came back. Her time of death was announced at 6:06 AM on November 8th, 2022. We held our beautiful girl for as long as the hospital staff would let us. We walked out of the hospital, diaper bag and breast pump in hand, while our baby girl would be prepared for the morgue. We walked through the hospital as bystanders stared at our red, puffy eyes, with horror written all over our faces. When we got to our white Chrysler Pacifica that we bought for Lola, we froze when we opened our car door to her empty car seat. Little did we know, this was only the very beginning of a lifetime of painful reminders of everything we lost. As we pulled out of the parking lot, questioning everything we ever knew, we received a phone call from Mid-America Transplant, wanting permission to donate her organs. We knew that we wanted our daughter to give the gift of life, if at all possible. Our baby girl’s organs could be used to give another baby the chance to have a normal life. She would be transported to St. Louis to donate her heart valves later that evening.
Except she couldn’t donate her heart valves. Her heart was way too big, literally. We would go on to learn that I had passed down a gene mutation that gave her a condition known as dominant autosomal mitochondrial complex II deficiency. We didn’t know until it was too late. She developed cardiomyopathy as a result of mitochondrial deficiency, which led to heart failure. Her prognosis would have been extremely poor, had we found out about it while she was still with us on this earth. Along with facing the loss of our precious baby girl, my husband and I now face many unknowns, and a whole lot of heartache. Our perfect, thriving, healthy, beautiful, happy, chunky baby girl has already lived her BIG little life here on earth, and has gone to Heaven. While we once felt like the illustration of the American dream with beautiful kids and a white picket fence, our picket fence was set on fire. We will forever be part of the “child loss” club,” a club you never want to be forced to join.
Suddenly, the world felt moot and unimportant. I remember walking outside and being so angry that construction workers were out, working to improve a church close by. “Why the heck does it even matter?” I thought to myself. I was even angry at the sun for shining. I wanted thunderstorms. “My daughter leaving me DESERVES thunderstorms!” I thought. The world was still spinning, while my husband and I couldn’t even go a couple of minutes without hyperventilating. For the longest time, we were scared of going to sleep, because we hated waking up to our new, awful reality. It’s a cruel thing when suddenly you know how good life could be with your precious baby, but then God calls that baby home. I will never forget taking my two little boys to school for the first time, a couple of days after our daughter’s passing. Strollers EVERYWHERE. Baby girls EVERYWHERE. It was just another Thursday for every other family. But for us, every step was another moment of torture. People stared, hugged, and cried. But nothing could change the reality that our little girl wouldn’t come back. She would never choose Heaven over earth, and while I rejoiced in her victory of meeting our Creator face to face, I was left devastated, longing, aching and grieving for my child.
I never knew what it was to endure something truly “hard.” But this was hard. And I didn’t know how to dig myself out of the hole. I couldn’t eat. My boys became my reason for getting out of bed. My husband and I didn’t talk, let alone laugh together. Our house became cold. But eventually, we came to realize that Lola deserved to rest in Heaven, knowing that her parents were living in her honor. We became determined to get “better,” whatever “better” means. So along with leaning into The Lord and His Word, we asked the question, “how do we actually start eating well again? How do we begin taking care of ourselves again?” And that’s what I want to share with you today. I want this to be a guide, for all of the precious mommas that hurt, are feeling overwhelmed, or are grieving.
Take it ONE STEP at a time. I started by just committing to eating again. Next, I started tracking my intake. I didn’t even worry about hitting my numbers (I was VASTLY undereating) but I did track what I was eating. It felt like riding a bike, and it felt GOOD. It wasn’t pretty, but knowing where my intake was naturally falling was important. Knowledge is power. Trying to do too much at once will feel really overwhelming, especially when life is already overwhelming all on its own. Your energy is extremely limited under immense stress or grief, and you have to be wise how you spend it. Take it one moment at a time, one step at a time. Tracking turns into getting in range again. Getting in range once means getting in range again. And then, getting in range some more. Before you know it, it’s a habit again. And that habit leads to eating veggies again, and tracking your fiber once more. It’s not all at once. But one step in the right direction will set the habit in motion again. If you track, you’re bound to want to keep tracking.
Let people help you. This might seem obvious, but allowing others to help can be uncomfortable. It makes us vulnerable and it can leave us feeling like we are a “burden” to others. The thing is, people WANT to help. They don’t know what to say, but they do know they can make themselves useful. Let them! It makes them feel good. Others who have helped my husband and I with meals and other mundane tasks have frequently told us, “it brings me joy to be able to help in some way.” Why rob a kind person of that joy, when they genuinely want to intercede on your behalf? Tell helpers what foods you do or don’t like. Ask them to prepare protein sources for you. Ask them to roast a big batch of veggies. Ask them to tidy your house so that you can focus on meal prep. All of this to say, now is not the time to try to handle everything by yourself. Don’t spend any of your energy fighting away help. Voice what you need, and take what you’re offered.
Easy meal prep is your friend. Ground beef can be used in so many delicious ways. I highly recommend keeping simple groceries on hand, like ground beef, steamer veggies, pasta, marinara jars, cheese, steamer rice, tortillas and sandwich bread, etc. Protein powder is also an immense help. It is SO easy to have groceries delivered nowadays. Take advantage of grocery pick up and grocery delivery. Coach Lindsay ordered bone broth for me while I was not only grieving but also sick with the flu, and it really helped me to get some protein into my diet. For me, it was also helpful to view cooking and fixing food as a healthy thing that I control. My life may be out of control, but my diet can still be on point.
Communicate with your coach about where you’re at. If you can’t handle as much protein or as much fats, let them know. If you need “cozier,” less restrictive numbers, let them know. I couldn’t hit my numbers for a long time, and Coach Taeya had to drastically lower them. Protein was difficult for me to consume, and it was tough for me to eat veggies for a long time. That’s okay. The point was that I was eating and getting protein.And at the end of the day, I was being consistent. We all know that no matter where your numbers are at, that’s the most important thing. Having a coach becomes even more beneficial in the face of grief. You don’t need the added guess-work of calculating numbers. Let your coach do that for you.
The desire to eat well and focus on your nutrition again DOES NOT mean you are no longer grieving. It doesn’t mean you are accepting what happened, or leaving your loved one in the past. It doesn’t mean that you’re okay. It means you’re taking control of what you can control. And this is a HEALTHY outlet for you to take charge of. There are both healthy and unhealthy distractions in the world of grieving. That’s something I learned in therapy. Nutritional discipline is a really solid distraction. You may not be able to control much about your life, what happened to your person, or the deep sadness you feel, but you CAN put your energy into something healthy – your body.
You might just have to do it anyway. But I promise you aren’t alone. There is a person ready to walk alongside you. Our bodies need good nutrition, despite the fact that our whole world no longer feels normal. We don’t want to eat well, prioritize water, or eat our veggies. But we just have to do it anyway, because we know we should. Recently, a dear friend of mine shared the story of when her baby sister was run over by a FedEx truck many years ago. My friend’s most vivid memory of the time was that she had to step in to raise her younger siblings because her mom wouldn’t get out of bed. The reality is, the alternative action will result in the deterioration of our mental and physical health. Our loved one would never want that. We want to honor them with a beautiful legacy. We want them to make us better than we were before. You have so many others around you who love you and long to see you smile again. You are not walking down this road alone. Your story doesn’t end in grief. It ends in victory. And here at Stay Fit Mom, we will be with you every step of the way.