Kayla did a thorough job of explaining the purpose of Bravery Beads, so I will dive right into my experience. As I’ve mentioned, both my boys were in critical condition for the first six weeks of their lives. I remember a nurse starting a necklace for Theo and hanging it by his bedside. At the time I probably thought it was a sweet gesture but really didn’t think any more of it. I was in such a fog and didn’t take in the intention behind collecting beads.
The second time around, with Christian, I was eager to acquire the correct amount of daily beads. I wanted his necklace to be an accurate reflection of my family’s experience. This was difficult because Christian’s case became more and more complex and my interest in collecting Bravery Beads dissipated.
With that being said, I do recall some high moments when the boys crossed certain milestones. The most prominent for me was when my boys received the extubation bead. My boys were intubated for very long periods of time, so in my eyes this bead was like a gold medal. I even remember getting that specific bead and hanging it on the necklace - it was such a sign of relief for me and my husband.
Based on my two-time experience, I’ve seen other parents have different relationships with Bravery Beads. Some parents collect as many as possible and others are less interested. Some NICU parents have expressed that collecting beads, even after their child’s hospital stay, was therapeutic and a way to for the family to continue to reflect on their experience. For me, I’m content with necklaces that don’t represent every single poke or prod. The idea of Bravery Beads is to show the child’s growth, so I’m okay with necklaces that don’t explicitly outline every milestone.
Something that is important to remember is that these beads are not a competition. Pain is pain, trauma is trauma, suffering is suffering - the more we stop comparing our journey to others, the more we recognize and validate our own struggles. Bravery Beads are what you make of them, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who has the most beads and who has the least. We must focus on empathy and give one another credit for the individual journeys we are all on.
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