Strong Enough for Nina

Last December I received an email with the subject, “I was her legs today. You had a part of it.” Ellen was writing to me from the Ukraine where she was in the process of adopting a little girl. Her email shared how my “Strong Enough” post had arrived in her inbox with perfect timing, timing that changed her family and changed their world. I was so touched, I asked her to please join me here as my first Guest Blogger. Here is their story:


After our youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome, we embarked in the most life altering journey of our lives. She had enriched our lives in meaningful and powerful ways. For this reason, I had spent almost two years looking at the faces of children on Reece’s Rainbow, an International Adoption Ministry for children with Down syndrome. I had fallen in love with many of them, praying that they would find forever families and wondering if any of them were meant to be ours. My husband Andy and I knew that adoption was in our future, but unlike me, he had not felt inclined to inquire about any of the children, so I waited. Occasionally, I would visit Reece’s Rainbow “Other Angels” page. These are the children with other special needs.

It was a late night in July, as I scrolled down the faces, I heard him say while he looked over my shoulder,

“Wait! Scroll back up a little”

I did.

“Right there” he said pointing to a beautiful smiling face, “That little girl looks just like a Stumbo.”

I stared intently at her face.

“Look at her eyes” he added, “She looks just like my sister.”

I got up to find our baby book. A small scrapbook I had made with our baby pictures before our oldest daughter was born. I returned to find him still studying the little face. I opened it up to the first picture and held it up next to the computer screen.

“Honey” I said, “She doesn’t look like your sister, she looks just like you.”

We stared at the photographs, blown away by the strong resemblance.

“You should ask what country she is from and if they have any more information on her.”

“Are you serious?” I asked excited.

“We have been talking about having another child, maybe our next child will come to us through adoption.”

“Does it say what her diagnosis is?” I asked

“Yes” he responded, “Cerebral Palsy”

Cerebral Palsy. The words were heavy, they fell on my heart and threatened to crush it. Cerebral Palsy? I could do Down syndrome, but Cerebral Palsy?

We decided to give ourselves some time to think and pray. We researched Cerebral Palsy and invited our close friends and family to help us sort through our thoughts and feelings. The fact that we wanted to adopt another child with special needs, did not mean that the time was now. I was scared about her disability and my ability to parent her. Could we do it? Could I do it?

As it is in many European countries, children with special needs are transferred from orphanages to institutions by the age of four. Once children arrive in these institutions, many die within the first year. We knew that time was of the essence, and if we were going to be serious about this, we needed to make a commitment to her soon.

It was during this time of “reflection,” that Rachel Coleman wrote her post, “Strong Enough to Be Her Mom.” It was a story about Lucy. Lucy, her beautiful daughter with Cerebral Palsy, her inspiration to be “strong enough.” Was she “strong enough to show her a word beyond sidewalks and ramps?” Would she be Lucy’s yes in a world of no’s?

Rachel didn’t know that the message she had shared in her story, was about to change the life of a little girl half way across the world. She didn’t know that she was asking me, “Ellen, will you be strong enough to be Nina’s mother? Will you show her a world beyond the walls of an orphanage? Will you be her yes?”

Tears started to trickle down my cheeks, they soon became a steady stream, and eventually the flood gates opened up and I was sobbing. I remembered what Andy had said earlier in the day, “She might have Cerebral Palsy but she still deserves a mommy and a daddy that will love her and believe in her potential.”

Talking about Rachel Coleman or Signing Time is common in our house. Our daughter walks around the house holding Rachel’s picture (sometimes she even needs to look at her while sitting at the dinner table) and constantly asks for a video or the music. We know all the songs, and almost all the signs. So when I told my husband I had just read Rachel’s last blog post and began to cry as soon as I said her name, he was sure I had had enough “singing time, and dancing time, and laughing time, and playing time.” But through tears I told him about Lucy and Rachel “I will be Nina’s yes, I will be strong enough for her” I said.

Four months later I held a sweet little girl with Cerebral Palsy in my arms. My daughter Nina.

For almost 4 years she had lived in one room. A room where she slept, ate, and played. Her life consisted of four walls. Even within the walls she had limitations due to her mobility. And while other children might have been taken outside to play once in a while, she stayed behind.

The first day that I was allowed to see her room my heart broke to a million pieces. It broke for the orphans, it broke for those children with special needs nearing their 4th birthday, and it especially broke for Nina.

I asked if I could take her outside to play, I could see other children on the orphanage grounds through the window. They said I couldn’t take her out because she couldn’t walk. I said I would carry her. They said it would be too hard, she couldn’t be carried like a “normal” child. I said I didn’t care. They said I didn’t understand. I said she was my daughter. They rolled their eyes, got her dressed, and put her in a wobbly, metal stroller.

After only a few minutes, I took Nina out of the stroller, it was impossible to maneuver on the uneven ground. I decided she could point and tell me where she wanted to go. As we walked around she would look at me and smile. The reality of her life continuing to sink in my heart. Her world was so limited not only because of being an orphan, but because of her CP. Her world limited to a room. Nobody was there to open her world. Nobody was there to be her “yes.”

I thought about Rachel and Lucy. When Rachel does not feel like running she still runs because she can and because Lucy needs her to be strong enough.

Nina had never had someone stand before a road, willing to explore, to walk, to be her legs. Nobody ever had, and in this place, nobody ever would. Would I be her “yes”? And when necessary, would I be her legs? Emotion welled up inside me, it needed to come out, to be released. So what did I do? I took off running. With Nina sitting awkwardly on my hip, we ran as fast as I could and for as long as I could. We ran, and we ran, and we ran.

Joy, there was pure joy in my daughter’s face! Because in that moment she had legs and in that moment she could run! It was pure bliss!

A worker shook her head at us. She wore a disapproving frown. But on that day disapproval was tossed away, and a child felt the cold wind on her face and ran! Ran with her mama!

That moment birthed determination in me. I will be her yes. I will be strong enough. And when necessary, I will also be her legs.

There are many children with special needs in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. Reece’s Rainbow seeks to find families for these children. So just like Rachel challenged me, I will challenge you. Will you be a “yes” for one of these children?
Will you be strong enough?

Ellen and Nina

Ellen and Nina

You can visit Ellen’s Blog here:

This entry was posted in Strong Enough and tagged , , , , , by Rachel Coleman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

56 thoughts on “Strong Enough for Nina

  1. Oh Rachel as always my heart has been brought out thru my tears. Ellen and Ninas story is such an inspiration as well as a challenge!
    Thank u for always challenging us all

  2. Thank you so much for bringing Ellen and Nina’s story to your blog – it was truly inspirational and beautiful. It’s wonderful how the power of words can bring about such amazing change and action!

  3. Well how cool is this…to see my friend Ellen on your blog?!? They do have an amazing story, and they are a really amazing family! (They’re coming to visit in a few weeks and I can’t wait to see her girls and my girls playing together! Rachel and family, consider yourselves invited! :))

    It’s shocking how many like Nina need someone to be strong enough, and how many of us have the capacity but don’t feel the urgency or want to make the effort. I’m so blessed to get to work with the Reece’s Rainbow families who want help with blogs to spread the word and document their stories…every family is wonderful, but basically ordinary, and yet extraordinary in their passion for these children.

    Thanks so much for giving Ellen another great outlet to tell their story!! And thanks for being such a great PART of it!

    Oh, and Braska is sitting here saying “Bye Rachel!”

  4. Some of us don’t have the ability to adopt through Reece’s Rainbow – but all of us have the ability to help a child find their home. If you can’t, but still want to help, please consider giving financial support to the families by supporting the kids through RR. It is a small way to help.

    Thank you for sharing the original “Strong Enough” post, Rachel, and now for sharing Ellen’s beautiful story with a larger audience!

    • Melissa, you are right! Of course you can’t help but look at each of those faces and want to do something. That something may not be flying to another country, it might be contributing to someone else’s journey.

  5. What an incredible story! Thank you Ellen for sharing your amazing journey and thank you Rachel too.

    Strong, amazing women like yourselves make the world a better place. God bless you both and all your wonderful children.

  6. Rachel- Thank you for posting Ellen’s story – it is touching and challenging. The Stumbos are such a dear family.
    Thank you too for your videos – my girls (4 and 2) LOVE them and are surprising me with signs throughout the day! How fun!
    Blessings to you! 🙂

  7. Thanks Rachel for inviting such a wonderful guest. I cried. I did laugh about the older child who takes you everywhere as Lily has come close (she still swears you are coming to hold her again). Signing has changed our lives and I can’t imagine how many more people are still waiting to discover it all. Don’t ever stop being such an amazing advocate.

  8. Beautiful. We are actually in process of planning to adopt a little girl from the Ukraine as well. What a wonderful story!

  9. to be honest i have never been to this blog, I know Ellen from emails, forums and facebook, she and I share that we are mexicans, christians and have a children with DS, she is amazing, and her family is amazing. I have been blessed so many times from reading her, and know this post is … wow…..

    I’ll come to read more about you (Rachel) and Lucy. Since Im in Mexico, we dont know much about singing time only what i have read from others online friends, but already felt drawn to know more about you and your life and to be withnes of what God can teach me throw you =)

    love, from mexico

    Ali mom to Elias (5, DS)

  10. I am at my desk and can barely type through my tears. Thank you, my sister Rachel and dear Ellen, for sharing your life and strength. This was exactly what I needed to read and feel today as I have been wondering if I am strong enough for whatever unknown is ahead of me. Lots of love.

  11. I cried as I read this story. Glad to know in a world where negative has come the positive, that there was a physical happy ending to a story. It also confirmed my desire. I want to teach hearing impaired children. I want to learn to sign or become their voices. When I became pregnant with both of my children I saw how, lack of health benefits keep children from getting the medical attention they needed and it stirred a emotion in me to help them attain or became the middle woman. Thanks for the confirmation that I am on the right track by going back to school.

  12. Thank you Rachel for being an inspiration to so many people. You truly are one of a kind. Ellen I wish you and your family all the best. Nina has found a very strong MOM. The next time the wind brushes over me and my kids I will think of both Rachel and Ellen.

  13. Hola Rachel,

    Thanks for sharing Ellen’s story and yours. Ali´s comment (a few comments above mine) that people do not know you in México, it’s true. Many of us are here reading your blogs because someone else told us about you (I tell about your videos all the time), maybe because we have a child with a dissability, or even just by luck and a very good luck, because you are an inspiration!
    I think that it would be cool if people around the world could read your blogs in Spanish and other languages. Is it possible?

  14. I stumbled on this blog because I too am going to the creative emmy’s and I need a dress. I’ve never been anywhere near this fancy. do I wear long or short?
    but anyways. I started reading your blog and I love it. I am bookmarking it. You are inspirational. and your kids are adorable

    now. what did you wear

    • Barbi: This post shows you what I wore to The Emmys:

      This post shows part of the process of finding my dress:

      I recommend going to Nordstrom Rack and trying on every fancy dress until you find out what looks best on you. I for one look terrible in strapless dresses! A halter dress looks great on me. Once I figured out what was best I searched Ebay LOL for my fave brands. I love BCBG Max Azria – but I figured that out by trying on so many dresses. Good luck! And bring a water bottle into the dressing room, it’s a lot of work getting in and out of those dresses. Also be sure you get a dress you can actually sit down in!

  15. We were lead to our deaf children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia…it is an amazing journey that has taught us more than we could have asked for. Yes, there are hard days or even phases-but in the end…amazing blessing!

    Thanks for letting her guest blog!

  16. Pingback: These Mommas are My Heroes | Creekside Learning

  17. Wow! Just as I become prepared to have tissues ready when you, Rachel, post, I was so unprepared for this from a guest blogger!

    Such a beautiful and touching story!

    Ellen, I LOVE how you ran anyway!! Even with the disapproving stares! Every day I get stares with my 3 year old that has cerebral palsy, some good, some not so good…I’ve learned that I can’t let the stares stop me from doing anything for my baby…for being his legs!

  18. Thank you for bring Nina in to tell her story about her and her daughter! This was brought tears to my eyes! I have always talked about adopting a child someday and reading this story makes me want to do it even more! It breaks my heart that their are beautiful children out there not given a real chance at life because of the special needs, no child should live in a small room all their life!

    • Hannah, I agree no child should live in a small room. Adoption is very dear to me. Around here we don’t believe in “someday” because “someday” never happens. It’s only by taking action now that gives us access to living the life of our dreams.

  19. Rachel, I wanted to thank you for posting Ellen & Nina’s story. As a mom to an amazing 20 month old boy who happens to have DS, I am a Reece’s Rainbow suppporter. I have such admiration for Andrea Roberts, the creator of RR. She was an ordinary mom with a little boy who was born with special needs, & out of that came the inspiration to do something great. I wanted you to know that I have the same admiration for you. Your child was born with a challenge & you, in turn, were inspired to create something extraordinary. Never, ever underestimate the power of a mother’s love….

  20. Rachel- I don’t know how to get in touch with you other than this blog . I am in Utah, I live in California, I have three kids that HAVE TO HAVE signingtime in the car. We have all of our signingtimes on our ipod. My IPOD just crashed and can’t be restored until I plug it into my compter… In california. I can’t make it home without you. Can I purchase signingtimes anywhere? I am in Centerville Utah, DAVIS county. I will drive anywhere I have to before tomorrow. HELP!

    • Sandy, Looks like we missed you. The Signing Time offices AKA Two Little Hands Productions are in Midvale, Utah. You can always call ahead to be sure they have what you want. Also check iTunes for our stuff.

  21. Wow…what a story…I had to read this story to my husband,(even if he always gives me a hard time for blogging)Not a dry eye in the house. Nina and Ellen are so fortunate to have found each other, with the help from you Rachel, have you any idea how much you have helped so many children while helping your own. You are such an inspiration! I have a 3 year old granddaughter with C.P. Hailey is non verbal and we have recently begun learning ASL. She loves your videos! Thank you

  22. Rachel, I am so tired. I am working with my baby so many hours a day but the progress is so slow. She has so many medical problems and money is so tight. I try not to cry all the time but some days it is just too much.

    • Barbara, I am sorry to hear that and I can totally relate. I’ve been writing a book about our experiences and just wrote yesterday about how I got to the point I couldn’t take it any more and I sure didn’t want to hear another person tell me that “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.”– because REALLY there are days I can’t handle it.

      One of our saving graces was finding the Division of Services for People with Disabilities. They provide Lucy insurance based on her disabilities, not based on our income. Also she has funds available so that we can hire a helper, even a few hours a week makes a difference. She is VERY strong-willed AND needs help with everything from brushing teeth to toileting, to getting dressed. She’s naturally independent but it makes her crazy that we are always in her face.

      I don’t know what your daughter’s disabilities include, but there are a lot of resources available. Our Cerebral Palsy chapter provides a night of respite for families, a hotel room for a night for mom and dad plus a gift card to a local restaurant.

      There are resources, sometimes it just takes work to find them. Good luck

  23. I have been advocating for this sweet, precious little boy who’s in China for a while now. He needs an adoptive family! Jack will be three years old in november. Wouldn’t it be great if his family finds him soon? What an amazing birthday present that would be!

    Recent update: Jack is two and a half years old and has such a sparkling personality. He really is the life of the party. He loves people and will let any one hold him. He is smart and his Chinese is coming along so well. He asks for anything he wants to eat and his favorite is M&M’s but he also loves Cheerios. He was born with Spina bifida and at birth his legs were already paralyzed. He had surgery at about two months for the SB and later got a Shunt for his hydrocephalus. He was recently given a wheel chair and at the end of day one he was already navigating it around the house.

    He’s still on the China special needs adoption shared list. Male 11/2/2007 Postoperative meningomyelocele for more than 5 months, hydrocephalus.

    Here’s some links I found the last couple of months; with pictures of “sparkling” Jack:!/photo.php?pid=4059257&id=644087423

  24. I may not be replying to correct blog…but I just want to say that I enjoy watching “Signing Time” on PBS. I happened to catch it one morning and it was so much fun to watch….Rachael is a great teacher, so enthusiastic, and makes learning to sign really cool. I also am trying to learn along with all the kids. I’m 58 so I’ll probably have to take a make up test. Keep up the great work PBS, Rachael and all the others it takes to put together “Signing Time”.

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