Troy Austin once showed up to a marathon with an empty stroller.
No, he wasn’t offering rides or picking up his child on the last lap, even though the 37-year-old Australian father wished he could.
Following his race in August, Austin went on Facebook to share the story of his empty stroller and T.G, the son he lost about a year and a half ago through a stillborn birth.
“T.G would have been one and a half years old and sitting in the [stroller], 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,” he wrote on the social media page.
“‘Hey mate you have lost your kid?’ This phrase was a double edged sword, a sentence that was said so innocently at last weekend’s marathon,” he continued.
A reason to run
When T.G was at a little over 27 weeks in his mother’s womb in 2016, he was starting to get quiet, the firefighter tells Global News, so he and his wife went in for a checkup.
“When the ultrasound started, the doctor went for the heartbeat first. After searching around, he said, ‘I can’t find a heartbeat.’ That was it… until that moment we had no idea about stillbirths.”
Austin says after the news, the family still had to prep for labour, but not how they expected. They were told to get a death record of their baby boy, and his wife was given medication to help prepare her body for a natural birth.
“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 after hearing no heartbeat, Austin finally got to hold his son.
“He is beautiful. He is still and innocent. 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,” he says. “Next time we saw T.G was at the funeral home wrapped so innocently.”
Austin ran the marathon that August day with a friend named Brett who wasn’t able to have children. He says he would’ve brought T.G anyway, and an empty stroller just made sense.
“We said from his birth we would take him with us wherever we went,” he says. “Stillbirth isn’t publicized like cancer… no one wants to talk about a dead child. I think that’s why we didn’t put a sign on the [stroller], we wanted the questions without the turn of the heads and the silent pity. We wanted the voices.”
Creating a legacy
After losing T.G, Austin decided to honour his son by supporting other families going through similar situations.
“We could see T.G was going to be a kind soul, why not keep his legacy to help others?”
But more importantly, it was an opportunity to raise awareness about stillbirths in general, something that will happen to six babies a day in his home country of Australia. In Canada, the number of stillbirths rose from 2,818 in 2011 to 2,965 in 2012 and 3,072 in 2013, Statistics Canada reports.
“For Canada as a whole, the stillbirth rate went up from 7.4 per 1,000 total births (live births and stillbirths) in 2011 to 7.7 in 2012 and 8.0 in 2013,” the site notes.
The couple launched T.G’s Legacy, a campaign to raise awareness about stillbirths, and help to break the silence and stigma surrounding them. Through fundraising and educating communities, Austin hopes the campaign will help other families find each other.
“I just want to help, I want T.G to play with the other kids in heaven and know we are helping their parents down here.”
Taking it day-by-day
These days, Austin says things are going well and his family is keeping busy honouring their son.
“We have our sad days when you just miss our son, there isn’t a period where you get over his passing and there never will be.”
His wife is currently working on organizing a walk for families who have lost their children, while Austin is currently taking some time off to compete in triathlons and spend time with his other son.
“It’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to say their names and include them in discussion. Your children are special and unique if they are on Earth or an angel, so give them all a voice.”