Rock frontman Cormac Neeson has said discovering his son had Down Syndrome was an “earth-shattering” moment.
The singer with successful Northern Irish rock group The Answer has said the premature birth of his son, and his later diagnosis, was a life-changing experience which altered his vision of fatherhood.
In the uncertain months following the birth of his son Dabhog four years ago, Neeson tearfully opened up to a counsellor as the realities of a new parental path became clear.
But speaking on World Down Syndrome Day, Neeson has said that for himself and wife Louise, as well as other parents, it is what happens after the initial shock which counts.
The Belfast rocker, 37, has said that he let go of his “notions” of parenthood, and embraced a newly normal life with his now thriving eldest son.
Speaking to the Press Association, he said: “Four years ago my son was born three months prematurely. He was in hospital for the first four months of his life, which is a life-changing experience in itself.
“Two weeks into his life he was diagnosed with Down syndrome as well. It was kind of earth-shattering at the time, I’m not ashamed to say that.
“You have this notion in your head when you have a kid. It’s going to pan out kind of how you’ve always imagined. You just got to let go of that notion.
“That can throw your head in a bit of a spin, you are just not ready to deal with it. You have to reassess and reevaluate. It’s a human reaction, but it’s what happens after that that matters.
“At that moment in time it was tough, and I suppose I would describe it as a kind of numbness. You come out the other side of that kind of a different person.”
Neeson said that like many new parents his first concern was not for himself or his own well-being after becoming a father. But remaining relentlessly strong for his family took its toll.
He said: “When Dabhog was in hospital for those first four months, I talked to a counsellor every other day in there.
“I remember the first session I just sat in the room and cried my eyes out for 45 minutes or an hour. It felt good to go in and not be that person. Trying to strong for your wife 24/7. She equally had to be there for me as well.
“To be able to talk openly about how you’re feeling at that moment in time is so important.”
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder which can affect growth and intellectual development, as well as characteristic facial features.
Neeson, who has recently welcomed another son with his wife, said that he wants Down Syndrome to be normalised, in the same way it became normal for him in the time following the birth of his first child.
The singer, who had success with The Answer album The Rise, has welcomed the support from charities such as Mencap. He is now an ambassador for the charity, which provides help to families navigating parenthood with Down Syndrome.
He said of is experience with Dabhog: “It’s about being told that you’re going to get this child well, and take him home, and he’s going to keep you up all night like every other baby. It’s getting used to that new path being your reality.
“Even the tiniest moments in the day when something great happens, you don’t take any of those for granted, because you know everything he’s been through. You kind of celebrate all the little victories. He’s doing fantastically well.”
Neeson has said he hopes the conversation around Down’s Syndrome can shift towards “what people with Down’s Syndrome can do rather than what they can’t”.
Even before the birth of his child there were complications which left the rock star “screaming to the heavens”, but Neeson has taken the hope given after his son’s survival as the basis for his new solo album White Feather.