As Troy Austin pushed an empty stroller while running the Sunshine Coast Marathon in Queensland, Australia, he heard a few quips:
“Can I have a lift?”
“Are you picking up your kid on the final lap?”
Perhaps most devastatingly, he heard, “Hey mate, you lost your kid.” Austin shouted back, “Yes, I have lost my son and I’m not getting him back!”
The loss of Austin’s son, T.G. at 27 weeks gestation is exactly why he chose to run with an empty stroller.
He tells Babble:
“I thought it would cause people to ask questions and through questions you create awareness. Stillbirth isn’t publicized like cancer or the road toll; no one wants to talk about a dead child. Six babies die a day in Australia from stillbirth. I think that’s why we didn’t put a sign on the pram — we wanted the questions without the turn of the heads and the silent pity.”
Austin’s wife, Kelly went for a routine ultrasound at a little over 27 weeks pregnant. He shares, “When we went in we were happy, ready to see our little boy kicking away and active like he always was. The doctor went for the heartbeat first. After searching around, he said, ‘I can’t find a heartbeat.'” The Austins had never heard about stillbirths until that moment.
The day after receiving such devastating news, the couple had to return to the hospital to have a time of death recorded. The devastated mother was given medication to help her body prepare to give up her baby, long before her due date. Austin reveals, “After a few emotionally painful days, you go to the hospital to give birth, knowing that your bub isn’t coming home to his room. His clothes are not needed, his cot is an empty space.”
Three days later, T.G. was born, and according to Austin, “It happens like a normal birth, but it’s not. Mum’s having contractions, Dad’s helping with the pain. Nurses poke their heads in to see how things are progressing, we want the birth to come along, we want to hold our son.”
When T.G. arrived, Troy says, “We smile through the heartache because we have our first child; we are a family. Measured, weighed, and wrapped we could hold him, stare at him — beautiful hands, daddy’s chin. His grandparents came to meet our son and for a cuddle.”
T.G was born too late for a photographer to come in, so the parents held him until sunrise the next day. They said goodbye and a nurse wheeled him away. The next time they saw him was at a funeral home.
To cope with his grief, Austin threw himself into sports, taking part in the Long Course Triathlon Nationals, Ironman New Zealand, and the World Age Group Titles, three days after T.G’s burial. He tells us, “I trained and kept my mind and body so tired, it could not grieve.” Meanwhile, “Kelly tried as hard as she could to piece every bit of memorabilia together. She wanted to preserve all we had to remind us of T.G.”
Kelly also headed up awareness programs for the local hospital and organized training from Sands to help other families know what signs to look out for. Austin thinks that helped her feel closer to their son.
The couple set up T.G.’s Legacy, aiming to raise awareness about stillbirth and help to break the silence and stigma surrounding it, as well as raise funds for Sands in order to help other families “who face the heartbreak of stillbirth, miscarriage or neonatal death,” he tells Babble. “Also, to remember and honor our son, T.G. — to proudly celebrate him, his life and ensure he is never forgotten as greatly loved member of our family.”
This is the heartfelt reason Troy’s decided to run the Sunshine Marathon with an empty stroller for 42.195km. Troy had two great friends, Rob Hopkinson and Brett Doss, running alongside him to field questions and lend him support, but it still proved difficult. He says, “The thought going ’round my mind was that I really miss my boy. When you hear, ‘Hey mate, you have lost your kid’ for 42-odd kms, your heart and mind find that empty feeling that just gives you an eye-watering sorrow.”
He became worn down and lost his cool, especially after repeated questions from the same people on multiple laps, but says, “Telling myself that every time that phrase was yelled out, they were acknowledging that I had lost my son. They were acknowledging that T.G was my boy.”
T.G.’s Legacy raised approximately $6K last year and has a target of $5K this year. Austin, who has welcomed his second son, explains his hopes for the future:
“We want hospitals to receive more training — on research, on how to deal with mums and dads who are going through this process or have a pregnancy after loss. We want education. Still Aware and the Kicks Count program are fantastic — yet, not well known or promoted. This information on movement monitoring should be given to every pregnant woman just like the information on immunization, healthy eating, and safe sleeping.”