I n November last year, my childhood sweetheart and amazing wife, Paula, gave birth to our tiny twins Polly and Logan at just 32 weeks.
Polly had arrived first and she weighed 3lb 9 oz and Logan followed and weighed 3lb 15 oz. This meant that a long and an intensive care stay was required on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Jessop Wing.
My goal was that I didn’t want to keep this burden on my family and also that I wanted my family to grow up in a house that was full of love and laughter.
I am a biomedical scientist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield and often work with the NICU as part of my job, but it still didn’t prepare me for my own journey as a new parent of premature babies.
Both mine and my wife’s 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 doctors, sisters and nurses who were working on the unit and how many other families were there each in a similar scenario to us.
As the weeks went by, our twins Polly and Logan had plenty of ups and downs.
But as we entered our sixth week with them on the unit and we neared Christmas, the twins both seemed to pick up all of a sudden and they were making great progress.
The journey from birth to getting our babies home was one of the toughest things we have ever had to do, yet I felt we were very lucky. The staff on NICU were an amazing support to us.
But the whole experience of seeing our twins, Polly and Logan, so poorly had a huge impact on my mental health.
On one hand both me and my wife were the happiest people in the world, but then on the other we had the constant worry about our babies, hoping that they would be okay.
Paula was always so positive in her attitude, but so desperately wanted to breast feed, 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 relive 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.
The nightmares felt real and I often woke up crying as if we were back there all over again.
At first I hid it from Paula as I felt she had enough on. I felt like a fraud and a failure. If Paula despite everything was holding our family together, what kind of man was I that I was struggling?
I tried to read up on how I was feeling hoping for some kind of answer. I came across Post Traumatic Stress Disorder websites that outlined every single symptom I was suffering.
Each website mentioned it was common for mums to feel this way after an experience like ours, but nothing about dads. This again made me feel like a failure.
Then I thought of all the families who were worse off than us. It was just an awful cycle of guilt and sadness. Paula then one morning caught me sobbing at the edge of our bed and I just opened up fully and told her everything I was feeling. From that point on she was my rock.
Then one day I blurted it out to my manager at work. He was really supportive and he referred me to occupational health that then got me the help I needed.
This was the best thing I think I’ve done for myself. I was diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression and anxiety.
I knew that something was seriously wrong, but I had got the help I needed just at the right time.
I was scared of how far I had slipped, but I was getting help and making changes to my day to day life which made a big difference and now the darkness has passed.
My goal was that I didn’t want to keep this burden on my family and I wanted my family to grow up in a house of love and laughter.
I needed to be the version of me I liked again and 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.
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 burdening her.
We are now at a point where we look forwards more than we do backwards. 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 that have felt the same way don’t feel the way I did and suffer alone.
n Ben is hosting a rock show with his band, Fear Lies, to raise funds for Sheffield Hospitals Charity, to say thank you for the care he and his family received at the Jessop Wing.
The gig will take place on November 17 – which is alsoWorld Prematurity Day – at Corporation nightclub in Sheffield.
Tickets cost £5 and are available from www.fearlies.bandcamp.com/merch or by emailing the band on firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate directly to the Jessop wing, visit www.sheffieldhospitalscharity.org.uk