Childhood sweethearts Ben and Paula met at school in 2000 and have been inseparable ever since. After travelling the world together they decided to settle down and try for a family back home. But when their twins were born prematurely Ben had no idea that he would be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“When Paula fell pregnant we were over the moon. Paula hadn’t had any sickness or other symptoms of pregnancy, so when the sonographer said there were two babies in there we were completely shocked. In that moment I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world.” Ben said.
But in November Paula went into labour prematurely and the twins were born at just 32 weeks with Polly arriving first, weighing 3lb 9 oz. and Logan followed weighing 3lb 15 oz. This meant a long intensive care stay on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Jessop Wing.
“I’m a biomedical scientist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and often work with the NICU as part of my job, but it still didn’t prepare me for my journey as a new parent of premature babies. The first visit to see the twins was a complete shock to the system; the noise, the beeping of the machines, the hustle and bustle of all the staff on the Unit and how many other families were there each in a similar scenario to us.” recalled Ben.
“As the weeks went by, Polly and Logan had plenty of ups and downs. But as they entered their sixth week on the unit, the twins both picked up all of a sudden.
The journey from birth to getting our babies home was one of the toughest things we have ever had to do, yet we were very lucky. The staff on NICU provided amazing support. But the whole experience of seeing Polly and Logan so poorly had a huge impact on my mental health.
Paula was always so positive, but so desperately wanted to breastfeed, which was so difficult with two premature babies. For the first time I could see her struggling. While she was expressing milk I seemed to be getting all the fun times, the cuddles, the bonding and I felt so guilty.
Seven weeks later, just before Christmas, Polly and Logan were discharged. It was amazing. But I had started to have flashbacks and awful nightmares. I would black out at times and re-live a particular moment in great detail over and over again before coming round and wondering what had happened to me. I’d just start sobbing uncontrollably for no apparent reason. Then I thought of all the families who were worse off than us. It was just an awful cycle of guilt and sadness. At first I hid it from Paula as I felt she had enough on. I felt like a fraud and a failure.”
“One morning Paula caught me sobbing at the edge of our bed and I just opened up and told her everything I was feeling. From that point on she was my rock. I told my manager at work and he was really supportive. This was the best thing I’ve done for myself. He referred me to occupational health which got me the help I needed. I was diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression and anxiety.
I wanted my family to grow up in a house of love and laughter. I needed to let go of the negative thoughts and realise that I had nothing to feel guilty about. And most of all that Polly and Logan were better off with me in their lives.”
Ben says he is now at the point where he can look forward to the future.
“The therapy helped me get there and it also brought me and Paula even closer together because I started to share everything with her without feeling I was a burden.
Our twins are doing so well and are healthy and happy. I’m hoping I can start to talk more openly about my own feelings so that other dads don’t feel the way I did and suffer alone.”
As a way to say thank you for the outstanding care and support the family received at the hospital and on NICU, Ben is holding a rock concert on World Prematurity Day to raise funds for the Jessop Wing through Sheffield Hospitals Charity.
“The staff on the Neonatal Unit provided amazing support to us and now we want to try our best to give something back. Outside of my job, I’m a singer for a local rock band called Fear Lies. Getting back on a stage again after everything that had happened was very hard. But I did it and now I can try and use something I enjoy doing to benefit others.”
The gig will take place on 17 November – World Prematurity Day - at Corporation, Sheffield.
Tickets cost £5 and are available from www.fearlies.bandcamp.com/merch.