Why This Dad Pushed An Empty Stroller While Running A Marathon

"I thought running with an empty pram would cause people to ask questions, and through questions you create awareness."

In January of 2016, Australian triathlete Troy Austin took his pregnant wife, Kelly, for a checkup. At a little over 27 weeks pregnant, they noticed their son, who they named T.G., was being a little bit quiet. 

"When we went in, we were happy — ready to see our little boy kicking away and active like he always was," Austin told A Plus in an email. "When the ultrasound started, the doctor went for the heartbeat first. After searching around, he said, 'I can't find a heartbeat.' That is it. That's the first time, the immediate time, the time when you stare and say, 'don't say it, just don't say it.' We didn't know, until that moment we had no idea about stillbirth."

About 1 percent of all pregnancies result in a stillbirth according to the CDC, and about 24,000 babies are stillborn each year in the United States. Stillbirth is not a cause of death, but rather a term used to describe a baby who died during the pregnancy.

"The causes of many stillbirths are unknown. Therefore, families are often left grieving without answers to their questions," the CDC says. "Some women blame themselves, but rarely are these deaths caused by something a woman did or did not do." 

Known causes of stillbirths include birth defects, genetic problems, issues with the placenta or umbilical cord, and certain conditions in the mother such as high blood pressure or uncontrolled diabetes. 

The Austins were devastated that their baby boy no longer had a heartbeat and Kelly gave birth to him a few days after they heard the news. "You are given medication to help the body prepare to give up its baby, long before its due date," Austin said. "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." 

To cope with the tragedy, Austin turned to sports. "I threw myself into sport," Austin said. "Three days after T.G's burial, I had the Long Course Triathlon Nationals, Ironman New Zealand, and the World Age Group Titles. I trained and kept my mind and body so tired it could not grieve."

Now, over a year and a half later, he's using sports as a means to teach others about stillbirths. During the Sunshine Coast Marathon Queensland, Australia last month, Austin pushed an empty stroller as he participated. He hoped the move would encourage people to ask him questions such as, "Where's your child?" and "Have you lost your kid?" These questions would help him raise awareness about stillbirths and continue T.G.'s legacy. He would've been 1 1/2 years old. 

"Stillbirth isn't publicized like cancer or the road toll," Austin said. "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. We wanted the voices." 

Before the race started, many participants asked Austin where his child was. "I explained the point that there is no child. A hug, an apology, a tear and a look of 'I'm sorry, mate.'" Once the race started, he thought up quick responses he hoped would send the message. "I kept answering the onslaught of questions and shout outs with 'that's the point' and 'yes, I have lost my son and I'm not getting him back.' I received mixed emotions from those who understood the point but a fare few didn't get it," he said. "I'm glad it has raised the topic so much." 

"The response has been unbelievably huge, I have had parents send messages of their losses and support. Fathers who haven't talked about their loss contact me with thanks. Social media has been very positive and mostly respectful," Austin said. 

Austin and his wife welcomed a baby boy named Samuel Bruce in May, T.G.'s would-be little brother. They plan to continue to keep T.G.'s memory alive through a charity they've founded called T.G.'s Legacy which aims to raise awareness about stillbirths and support other families who are grieving. Austin may push the empty stroller again in future races. "I think the empty pram is here to stay," he wrote on Facebook. "Not empty. My son was with us." 

The Austins experience is, of course, deeply painful, but their efforts to continue T.G.'s legacy and help other families is helping to make a positive impact in the world. Hopefully, sharing their story will help people open up about their own experiences and raise conversations about stillbirths and miscarriage. 

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