Pushing a stroller for more than 26 miles straight certainly takes physical strength, but for one Australian runner, it required emotional strength as well. In August, triathlete Troy Austin ran a marathon pushing an empty stroller in honor of his stillborn son, who passed away at just 27 weeks. A word of advice before you go any further: Grab the nearest box of tissues, because you're going to need it.
On Aug. 20, Austin ran the Sunshine Coast Marathon in Queensland, Australia. Strollers are a common enough sight at races, but usually, they're carrying children inside. Austin's, however, was totally empty, which drew stares and questions from his fellow runners and the crowd gathered at the sidelines. Initially, he told the Daily Mail, he was unbothered by the first few jokes about losing his kid or hitching a ride to the finish line. In fact, that was the point. While he could have put up a sign explaining the situation, he left it off so he would have the chance to tell his son's story face-to-face.
According to the Daily Mail, Austin and his wife, Kelly, went in for a normal checkup when she was 27 weeks pregnant — just before the beginning of her third trimester. But when the ultrasound began, the doctor was unable to find a heartbeat. Their son, T.G., was delivered stillborn a few days later, in January 2016.
A year and a half later, the couple is still grieving. By running the marathon with the symbolic stroller, Austin hoped to raise awareness of stillbirth, but in a Facebook post, he wrote that he wasn't prepared for the emotional toll it would take to listen to strangers make light of his son's legacy, even if they didn't realize what they were doing. "As the run continued the onslaught was relentless. ... Sometimes I could explain why the pram was empty [but] other times we smiled and moved on," he wrote. "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)."
According to the Stillbirth Foundation, stillbirths occur when a baby passes away sometime between 20 weeks and birth. The March of Dimes writes that about 23,600 babies, or approximately 1 in 160, are stillborn each year in the United States. Although this is less than one percent of total births in the country, stillbirths may be more common than you realize. The causes vary, but common reasons include birth defects, problems with the placenta, and bacterial infection. Certain factors make women more likely to have a stillbirth: obesity, medical conditions like high blood pressure, previous miscarriages, and so on.
It may have been a difficult experience in more ways than one, but Austin didn't regret running the marathon. In his Facebook post, he concluded, "100+ people [recognized] I had lost my son last weekend, even if they didn't [realize] it."
Stillbirth is a difficult subject, and Austin told the Daily Mail that people don't seem to know what to say to parents of a stillborn child. Some treat his second son like a replacement for T.G., if they discuss it at all. "No one wants to talk about a dead child," he said.
To raise awareness and support other families who go through a stillbirth, the couple has founded a charity called T.G.'s Legacy. As for Austin's plans for future races, you may want to keep an eye out for his stroller in other marathons — although as he pointed out on Facebook, it isn't necessarily empty. "My son was with us," he wrote.