In late August, Troy Austin took part in the Sunshine Coast Marathon in Queensland, Australia and unlike other parent-child teams, he ran the entire thing distance while pushing an empty stroller.
Throughout the 26.2 mile course, Austin heard people commenting on his unoccupied stroller. Some onlookers asked whether he would be picking up his kid on the final lap, others jokingly quipped, "Hey mate you lost your kid," as the rest of the crowd giggled.
But for Austin, this was no laughing matter. In fact, the comments, especially the last one broke his heart even more, and he couldn't help but reply, “Yes, I have lost my son and I’m not getting him back!”
See, Austin never got the chance to meet his child. He and his wife Kelly, lost their first baby, T.G, at 27 weeks. Doctors were unable to detect a heartbeat during a routine appointment and after tests confirmed the unthinkable, Kelly was induced so she could deliver her stillborn son.
Since their heartbreaking loss, the couple have been doing their best to raise awareness about stillbirths. Austin turned to sports to cope with his loss so naturally running a marathon with a vacant stroller was the perfect opportunity to shed some light on an often overlooked topic.
As emotionally taxing as it may be, Austin knew that by running with an empty bright yellow stroller he would garner the attention he needs to create a conversation about stillbirth.
"T.G would have been 1 1/2 years old and sitting in the pram, however there would be no Legacy, no reason and no knowledge because until we were told he had passed we didn't have any idea it could happen," Austin wrote in a post on Facebook.
"Sometimes I could explain why the pram was empty....other times we smiled and moved on," he continued. "No you can't sit in and get a ride, no I am not picking my kid up on the last lap (wish I could). By the last 10 km both myself and Brett had finally realized that some of their laughter was because they didn't know what to say or didn't want to think about it."
"100+ people recognized I had lost my son last weekend, even if they didn't realize it," the grieving father added.
“I thought it would cause people to ask questions and through questions you create awareness." Austin told Babble in an interview. "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 and his wife set up a charity called T.G.'s Legacy to honor their son's memory as well as help raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding stillbirth. They're hoping to raise $5,000 this year through various events.
They hope that the money raised can be put towards funding further research and training 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,” he concluded.
Austin and Kelly welcomed their second child, a son, in May.