It was a marathon. And Troy Austin was running with an empty pram.

Video by MWN

Troy Austin is running along, his arms outstretched, his hands clutching the pram in front of him.

As the kilometres pass and his body tires, his hands remain firm, his knuckles tight, the pram ahead of him every step of the way.

It’s August 2017 and he is running the Sunshine Coast Marathon. People look, eyes lingering on the empty seat and the undone buckles of the children’s pram. Some ask questions, some joke, many glances do enough of the talking.

For 36-year-old Austin, that’s exactly the point. When people are confused, they ask questions. And when people ask questions, conversations – important, uncomfortable, sometimes ugly conversations – bubble to the surface.

Image: Supplied.

And then, finally, people begin to understand.

***

In January 2016, Kelly and Troy Austin, happy, nervous, eager parents-to-be, noticed their tiny baby-to-be 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. 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," Troy tells Mamamia.

Little T.G, as they would later call their baby boy, was just 27 weeks old.

Three days later, the couple went to hospital to give birth the baby they were desperate to meet and hold and protect, but the baby they cruelly wouldn't be able to raise.

"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.

"It happens like a normal birth, but it's not. Mum's having contractions, Dad's helping with the pain. Nurses poke thier head in to see how things are progressing. [At the time], we want the birth to come along, we want to hold our son. Three days after we heard those horrible words 'no heartbeat' we got to meet our boy, he was beautiful. He was still and innocent."

With beautiful hands and a chin just like his dad's, T.G entered the world, and left the world, amid bottomless bucketfuls of love enveloping him from every angle.

Listen: Rebecca Sparrow on love, loss and empty arms. Post continues after audio...

"We stayed with him all night. He was born too late for a photographer to come so we held him till the sunrise only to have to say good bye as a nurse wheeled him away. Next time we saw T.G was at the funeral home wrapped so innocently."

Troy tells Mamamia there was no "exact" time the couple decided to create T.G's legacy, a platform to discuss stillbirth in a mainstream, open and transparent way. It happened in a far more gradual sense.

"We did know we wanted our son to have a voice. We don’t want others to go through the ongoing pain of not knowing your child. I think we emerged from our cave wishing things were different and [wondering] how can we help.

"We said from his birth we would take him with us wherever we went. Stillbirth isn't publicised like cancer or the road toll, no one wants to talk about a dead child. Six babies die a day in Australia from stillbirth."

If anyone knows how much we struggle to form articulate and thoughtful conversations about stillbirth, it's Troy and Kelly Austin. The thought of a tiny, innocent, still life being taken before it has even started can break the must sturdy of hearts. But for them, conversations are critical. And parents of stillborn babies should feel like they exist in a realm that can lend an ear to stories, thought bubbles or memories of their child.

"It’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to say their names and include them in discussion," Troy says, in a message to other parents who may be going through a similar thing.

"Your children are special and unique, [whether] they are on earth or an angel, so give them all a voice. Whatever your decision is to move forward after the loss of your child is OK, there isn’t a right or wrong answer.

"Your child is a Little Life not a Little Loss."

Image: Supplied.

And for those who may not understand, Troy says, simply, it's a "life sentence".

"It is an immensely painful reality to go through life with no answers on who your child was and would have been."

***

Just over a month ago now, Troy readied himself beside two close friends - Brett and Rob - at the starting line at the Sunshine Coast marathon.

T.G's physical presence may not have been with him, but his pram was, and so too was his legacy.

"Before the start there were some very touching moments, when a few asked where my child was and I explained there is no child. A hug, an apology, a tear and a look of 'I’m sorry mate'. After the starter let us go and we were out running, it was different."

Different, in a sense that the common call was this one:

"Hey mate, you lost your kid."

It wasn't mean, he says, it was jubilant, Aussie humour. Many just didn't realise that behind the smile, the joke and the pointed fingers, that was exactly the case.

Troy and Kelly Austin did lose their kid. Their tiny, 27-week-old T.G.

And so, behind the mental and physical exhaustion that comes with running a marathon, Troy Austin had find a place for emotional energy, too, looking at these well-meaning people with their well-meaning jokes and explaining that yes, I lost my kid. That's exactly the point. 

But at the end of the day, and the end of the run, it's the jarring but well-meaning jokes that push and pull the conversation into a place of compassion and understanding.

Stillbirth may have been the last thing on their mind, Troy notes, but it was that juxtaposition of life and death that mattered. Just like T.G does.

To help make a difference, you can contribute to T.G's Legacy here.

If you or a loved one is struggling with the loss of a baby, help is available at SANDS.

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