When Ben Orrah’s twins were born prematurely it had such an effect on his mental health he was diagnosed with PTSD. Catherine Scott reports.
Ben Orrah was over the moon when he found out that his wife Paula was expecting twins.
“Paula and I are childhood sweethearts, we met at school in September 2000 and to this day we are inseparable and are still each other’s best friend,” says Ben.
“After travelling the world we decided we really wanted a family of our own. 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.”
But in November Paula went into labour prematurely and the twins were born at just 32 weeks.
“Polly arrived first, weighing 3lb 9 oz. and Logan followed weighing 3lb 15 oz, meaning a long intensive care stay on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Jessop Wing,” recalls Ben.
“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.”
Ben said 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 doctors, sisters and nurses on the unit and how many other families were there each in a similar scenario to us.”
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 seemed to pick 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 were an amazing support to us.
“But the whole experience of seeing Polly and Logan so poorly had a huge impact on my mental health.
“On one hand we were the happiest people in the world, then on the other we had the constant worry about our babies, hoping they would be okay,” says Ben, who is now holding a charity rock concert to raise money for the NICU unit in Sheffield.
“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 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?”
Ben tried to do some research into how he was feeling in a bid to understand what was happening to him and he was surprised by what he discovered.
“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 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 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.”
Ben says he is now at the point where he can look forwards rather than 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.”
And he wants to repay the support the family was given by the Jessop Wing and NICU.
“The staff on the Neonatal Unit were an amazing support to us and now we want to try our best to give something back to others.
“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 I’m glad I did it and now I can try and use something I enjoy doing to benefit others.”
Ben Orrah 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 wife received at the Jessop Wing.
The gig will take place on 17 November – World Prematurity Day - at Corporation.
Tickets cost £5 and are available from www.fearlies.bandcamp.com/merch or by emailing the band on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sheffield Hospitals Charity helps patients being treated for almost every condition across all the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals sites. The charity invests over £2m a year in state of the art equipment, pioneering research, patient and family support, buildings and people. www.sheffieldhospitalscharity.org.uk