Chris Cox never imagined, at 26, he'd be writing a memoir chronicling son Beckett's seven months of life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
A lifelong writer, he always thought his first book would be something fictional, more in the vein of Tolkien.
"What you have in your hand is the culmination of the time I spent transforming in my NICU journey," he read aloud from the introduction of "From Love to Loss: A NICU Odyssey." "The stories here are based on raw, personal experience."
Cox hosted a talk and book signing Wednesday at Westminster College, where he's an adjunct professor and web and social media director.
Chris and his wife, Shaina Cox, have been together for 12 years; they're high school sweethearts who've known each other practically since birth. The two married in 2016, and in August 2018, they learned Shaina was pregnant.
Their elation quickly turned to worry after learning Shaina had pre-eclampsia. Then, during an ultrasound appointment, Chris sensed something was wrong as the technician reviewed the images.
"You really get in touch with your intuition as a parent," he said.
They learned the pregnancy had a complication called "absent end-diastolic flow," a condition in which blood flows improperly between the mother and the fetus. It's a precursor to reversed end-diastolic flow, a condition that quickly proves fatal unless the infant is delivered by immediate C-section.
Shaina was admitted to the hospital for close monitoring and bed rest. Chris said her medical team hoped to help her reach 32 weeks of pregnancy before REDF occurred and a C-section became necessary; though the threshold of viability is at about 24 weeks, every extra day increased the chances of Beckett's survival.
They made it to 25 weeks. Chris had gone into work for the day when he got a call letting him know his son was about to be born.
"When I walked into the hospital that morning, I didn't know it, but my transformation had already begun," Chris said.
The next seven months held one trial after another. Beckett's tiny, barely formed lungs caught pneumonia again and again. He needed surgeries. His body was too fragile for Chris and Shaina to cuddle him. The little family was adrift in a sea of mourning and medical jargon, surrounded by other families of NICU infants going through similar trials.
Ultimately, Beckett passed away Aug. 18.
"He loved listening to people sing, watching movies and storytime, enjoyed milk and his pacifier, and loved to smile and make cute faces," his parents wrote in his obituary.
Chris chronicled it all in his blog, "From Chris to Dad," which became the seed for "From Love to Loss." The book came out in October, mere months after Beckett's death, and Chris said writing the book helped him process his grief.
"I like to write whenever I start feeling strong emotions," he said.
Chris' main audience is other parents with a child in the NICU, along with their friends and family — though, he said, any reader will find useful lessons to take away.
"When I started this book, it was going to be a how-to for the NICU process," he said. "You have a million questions when you walk into a NICU but you're afraid to ask most of them."
It includes advice about navigating the health care system, but also the grief and anxiety parents of a premature child feel.
Aside from practical advice, "From Love to Loss" chronicles Chris' internal journey.
"I used to be somewhat of a complainer," he said. "During that process, I've grown to appreciate a lot of small things people take for granted. I realized life really is very short, and we don't have a lot of time."
Watching infants fight for their lives in the NICU inspired Chris to embrace challenges.
"Those kids, anything that's thrown at them they have to overcome it to survive," he said. "They don't have a choice."
Chris wants to use the book to bring attention and encourage donations to the Children's Miracle Network, of which the Women's and Children's Hospital in Columbia is a part. The hospital's programs proved an invaluable support for Chris and his wife. For example, the Beads for Babies program gave parents a bead for each milestone the baby passes: first cry, first time drinking milk, first surgery, first smile.
"My son's would wrap around the hospital room 10 times," Chris said. "We still have those beads, and we'll treasure them forever."
He's already working on his next book — a children's book called "Petey the Preemie Panda."
"From Love to Loss" is available now at the Westminster College bookstore and on Amazon, and it will soon be stocked at Well-Read Books.