As Troy Austin began to push his empty pram among the fellow runners at the Sunshine Coast Marathon, he heard giggles and saw a number of confused looks.
‘Can I jump in and get a lift?’ one runner joked. ‘Are you picking up your kid on the final lap?’ another asked. ‘Hey mate, you lost your kid,’ one man simply told him.
‘Yes, I have my lost my kid,’ Troy replied. ‘And I’m not getting him back.’
It was when his wife Kelly was 27 weeks pregnant that the couple found out their son TG was stillborn.
Troy Austin ran with an empty pram in the Sunshine Coast Marathon to raise awareness for stillbirth. His own son TG was stillborn a year and a half ago
It was when his wife Kelly was 27 weeks pregnant that the couple found out their son TG was stillborn. Three days later, they got to meet him for the first time
‘We went along to our normal check-up, happy and ready to see our little boy kicking away and active like he always was,’ Troy told Daily Mail Australia.
‘When the ultrasound started, the doctor went for the heartbeat.’
But no matter how much he searched around, the doctor couldn’t find it. That was the first time Troy and Kelly had heard about stillbirths.
Just a day later, they returned to the doctor to have TG’s time of death recorded. Kelly had to take medicine to help her body prepare to give up the baby.
‘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,’ Troy said.
‘His clothes are not needed, his cot is an empty space.’
The couple are now working to raise funds for research as well as raise awareness for stillbirths to help break the stigma and silence around it
Three days after they heard the two words that would change their lives – ‘no heartbeat’ – Troy and Kelly got to meet their first child.
‘It happens like a normal birth, but it’s not,’ he said. ‘Mum’s having contractions, dad’s helping with the pain. Nurses poke their head in to see how things are progressing.’
‘We want the birth to come along, we want to hold our son. He is beautiful. He is still and innocent.’
‘We smile through the heartache because we have our first child, we are a family.’
TG was measured, weighed, and wrapped, and then Kelly and Troy finally got a chance to hold him in their arms and admire his ‘beautiful hands, daddy’s chin’.
‘We stayed with him all night,’ Troy said. ‘We held him until the sunrise, only to have to say goodbye as a nurse wheeled him away.’
‘The next time we saw TG was at the funeral home, wrapped so innocently.’
A year and a half has passed since TG’s death, but Troy said the family’s grief is ‘ongoing’.
Troy said he did not attach a sign to the pram because he wanted people to ask him why it was empty, so that he could explain to him what happened to TJ
Troy and Kelly had their own coping strategies as they dealt with the loss. Kelly worked to preserve ‘every bit of memorabilia’ they had of TJ to make sure his memory would live on
‘My grief comes in waves,’ he said. ‘You will be doing something and just get sad, you try and remember holding your son, you wonder what you would be doing.’
‘My Father’s Day this year was worse than last year. Or maybe I just can’t remember last year’s Father’s Day.’
Troy and Kelly both had their own coping strategies as they dealt with the mutual loss.
Kelly worked to preserve ‘every bit of memorabilia’ they had of TG to make sure his memory would live on.
‘She found ways to ensure he was included,’ Troy said. ‘Photos in frames for grandparents, a small giraffe to place on the table at family functions to ensure he is represented, ensuring his name is written on cards addressed to our family.’
Meanwhile, Troy threw himself into sport – completing the Long Course Triathlon Nationals, Ironman New Zealand, and World Age Group Titles just days after TG’s burial.
‘I trained and kept my mind and body so tired it could not grieve,’ he said.
The couple also launched TG’s Legacy in hopes of fundraising to support grieving families, as well as raising awareness and breaking the stigma around stillbirth.
And the latter was exactly what Troy hoped to do when he ran 42km with an empty pram at the Sunshine Coast Marathon.
The couple hope to help the community realise it’s okay to talk about stillbirth, and are advocating for hospitals to receive more training with how to help parents with the loss
A year and a half has passed since TG’s death, but Troy said the family’s grief is ‘ongoing’
‘I specifically didn’t put a sign on the pram so questions would be raised,’ he said. ‘I just didn’t realise how many questions would be raised.’
Thankfully he had the support of friends Brett Doss and Robert Hopkinson, who stayed by Troy’s side as he fielded questions about his ‘missing’ child.
‘Before the start there were some very touching moments when a few asked where my child was and I explained the point that there is no child,’ he said.
‘A hug, an apology, a tear, and a look of “I’m sorry, mate.'”
But when the race began, he could hear people from the crowd yelling, ‘Hey mate! You lost your kid’.
‘It was jubilant, they weren’t trying to be mean,’ he said. ‘It was just Aussie humour. Stillbirth was the furthest thing from their mind and I understood that.’
Even though he was glad to be raising the topic, hearing the phrase over and over again started to wear on Troy as he passed each lap.
Troy hopes that by speaking out he will help others realise that stillbirth is a ‘life sentence’, and that a lost baby can never be replaced
‘I was prepared for a few questions, however I became worn down and lost my cool, especially after repeat questions from the same people,’ he said.
‘The thought which helped me, though, was telling myself that every time that phrase was yelled out, they were acknowledging that I lost my son.’
‘They were acknowledging that TG was my boy.’
And that is exactly what Troy and Kelly hope to achieve with stillbirth, helping grieving families remember a lost child that society often doesn’t recognise.
‘Parents that have lost a child want to hear their children’s name, they want to know they are counted,’ Troy said.
‘Parents don’t want to be ostracized from the community because it’s in the “don’t know what to say” basket. We are parents, we just hold our children in our hearts.’
The couple hope to help the community realise it’s okay to talk about stillbirth, and are also advocating that hospitals receive more training and research with how to help parents that are going through an incredible and shocking loss.
‘Stillbirth isn’t publicised like cancer or the road toll, no one wants to talk about a dead child,’ he said.
The couple have launched TG’s Legacy in hopes of fundraising to support grieving families
‘Six babies die a day in Australia from stillbirth. This is higher than the road toll, yet these precious lives are not discussed or respected.’
‘This country’s stillbirth statistic has not changed in two decades. It’s time for action, it’s time for change, it’s time to reduce this soul-destroying heartbreak.’
Troy hopes that by speaking out he will help others also realise that stillbirth is a ‘life sentence’, and that a lost baby can never be replaced.
‘It is an immensely painful reality to go through life with no answers on who your child was and would have been,’ he said.
‘Some people will say to me, “Well, you have another child now, so you must be happy”, like it’s a replacement.’
‘It is like a parent saying “Our child died at school today, but that’s okay because we have a good one coming through the ranks”‘.
‘We have had our second son recently, but that does not take away from how much we miss his big brother and never will. We will never forget TG, for he is our son.’