Baby-Wearing ~ Toddler-Wearing ~ Eleven-Year-Old-Wearing

When my daughter Leah was born in 1996 I knew that I would wear her. Baby wearing was new to Salt Lake City, Utah and people always stopped and stared as I passed by. Even more people stopped to look when my husband Aaron carried little Leah in the sling. We loved slinging her! I could nurse her privately in public. I could take her anywhere, keeping her close, and still having my hands free.

We didn’t own a stroller and we had no interest in getting one. Leah was comfortable living out of her “pouch” and experiencing the world closer to our eye-level rather than from the compartment-like stroller. We wore her through the streets of Boston, on a ferry to and from Martha’s Vineyard, and on the subway in New York City. She snuggled up against us in Los Angeles, at the beach, and most everywhere we went. Aaron and I marveled at how cumbersome those adventures would have been if her main mode of transportation had been a stroller.

Marthas Vineyard 1997

When Leah was fourteen months old we found out that she was deaf. In dealing with her diagnosis I felt all sorts of things, but one thing that I felt was a bit of satisfaction—satisfaction that my child had traveled that first year with the comfort of her mommy’s or daddy’s heartbeat nearby. Even if she couldn’t hear it, she was always close enough to feel it. She took in the world visually from her “perch” even though she was missing everything auditorily. She could see our smiles, feel our kisses and she had the confidence of feeling safe in our arms. We wore her that way until she was over three years old.

Our daughter Lucy was born prematurely at thirty-two weeks gestation and weighed 4 lbs 11 oz. She was born with spina bifida, and on top of that was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months of age. The prospect of Lucy ever mastering walking was slim. I already knew that we could easily postpone the loading and unloading of a wheelchair simply by carrying Lucy in a sling, though I had no idea how far we would end up taking it…or her.

Lucy is now eleven years old and weighs fifty pounds. She is four feet, two inches tall and yes, we can still be seen wearing her. It’s not for the comfort or ease of it any more—quite the opposite. Carrying Lucy is a personal mission and always a personal triumph. We are an active family and I guess we just refused to live within the limitations imposed by a wheelchair. We travel. We camp. We hike. We go to the beach. Many of the places we go are out of the way, and the roads we travel are unpaved. Aaron and I knew that leaving Lucy at home wasn’t even an option that we would consider. Yet surrendering to a life where so much of the world’s natural beauty would be unavailable to us because an inconvenience like spina bifida wiped out our child’s ability to walk, seemed unfair to us all.

Aaron and I decided that we would become strong enough to carry Lucy. We would take her off-road, beyond the pavement where waterfalls and natural arches and hoodoos can be seen. We would be her legs. We take her up slot canyons, through coniferous forests and bring her almost face to face with moose. I have pointed out wildflowers and taught her their names as we‘ve hiked to lakes in Glacier National Park. She’s seen the mud pots and geysers of Yellowstone, and yes, she has seen the waterfalls too. In winter, when she was invited up the canyon for a snow day, I wore Lucy on my back as we tromped through snowdrifts that were thigh high!

Back in 1996 when I slipped little Leah into a sling and adjusted it so she was safely against me, I never imagined that I would be wearing my children for the next 15 years. I never imagined carrying a ten-year-old and having that child thank me for doing it as she takes in nature’s beauty. People still stop and stare, that hasn’t changed. Strangers and friends ask, “How long will you keep carrying her?” and I don’t have an answer. Honestly, I don’t know. I just know that I will carry her as long as I can.

Here are some photos of places we’ve carried Lucy. Each caption has the year, and since Lucy was born in the year 2000, the math needed to figure out her age is pretty easy.

Aaron Lucy and a Moose 2005

Aaron and Lucy in Moab 2008

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone 2009

Uncle Toms Trail Yellowstone 2009

Goblin Valley Utah 2009

Hiking through Albion Basin 2010

Big Cottonwood Canyon 2010

How We Carry Our Eleven-Year-Old
We use a number of different packs and we are continually making modifications. Originally we carried the girls in Over The Shoulder Baby Holders. Now we have a custom Baby Hawk, we call it a Lucy Hawk, a Deuter Kid Comfort III, an Organic Ergo Baby*, and an old framed Kelty pack. Any time we see a pack that looks useful we get it especially if it’s rated for a child weighing 50 pounds or more.

*The Ergo Baby Carrier was given to us for free by the good folks at ErgoBaby. All of the other carriers listed were purchased.

175 thoughts on “Baby-Wearing ~ Toddler-Wearing ~ Eleven-Year-Old-Wearing

  1. I read this article with tears in my eyes – what a beautiful story of strength and perseverance. I wish all moms could feel this strong, unyielding pride in doing something right for their children, even if they feel judged by doing so. Imagine my surprise when I scrolled down and read your info – I have been teaching my two toddlers (aged 3 and 2), ASL with your tv show for the past 6 weeks, because my son said “he wanted to be ready if a new friend couldn’t hear him”. I think your show is wonderful, and your story is beautiful. Keep on keeping on, mama!


    Jes White Reply:

    I don’t normally cry when I read online articles or blogs, but after watching Signing Time and the impact it’s had on my (fully hearing, but selectively mute) daughter, I couldn’t help it. I’ve invited you and you’re daughter into my home most everyday. We’ve danced and sang and learned with you. Reading this, surprisingly, hit me like a family member overcoming challenges. I’ve read your struggles and have seen the strength and perseverance. It’s strange to feel or say this, but I am so proud of you! Way to go Rachel! I’ll be here cheering you on every step and stumble.


  2. I am so amazed by this. I have a 10 year old about 45 pounds that I want to take with me on my hikes, camping or even long walks. She wants to go but can’t walk far due to her breathing limitations. I have been trying to find something that I can take her with me but I have been coming up empty handed. Everything I have seen has a weight limitation of 40-45 pounds. I would really love to see your packs up close? Do you have any detailed pictures of them? Thank you for your story!!! This has got me thinking creatively, I know I can find a solution. :)


    Vilija Reply:

    You may want to look into a Preschool Kinderpack. I’m not sure of the weight limit but, I know it is designed for bigger, older kids.


  3. My son is born with Cerebellum Hypoplasia and still isn’t able to walk at age 3. I have been carrying him on my shoulder to go everywhere, but I am afraid he is getting too heavy for me to do so. I am in a quest to find the perfect backpack carrier for him and found your site. Thank you for sharing and I will research the brands you mentioned. Keep up the awesome work you have been doing for your little girl. She is way more fortunate than a lot of kids out there.


  4. Could you please tell what carrier this would be from the picture Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone 2009? I have a 3 yr old son with DS and runs so in order to keep him safe I’m looking for yet another baby carrier. Child harnesses are OK but he’s still everywhere.


  5. Thank you so much for this post! We found out two weeks ago that our baby will be born with spina bifida, and I was concerned that there may be health or safety concerns with wearing a baby/child who is partially paralyzed (one of about a zillion concerns bouncing around my head right now). It’s a huge relief to see that this is one more method available to us to make sure our little one has a full and fulfilling life.


  6. This is so awesome! I’m an AT and avid baby wearer and I’ve been working on a carrier that’s made specifically for families that want to wear their children beyond preschool age!!!


  7. You and your family are such and inspiration and we are so grateful to have your Signing Time videos and incredible stories in our lives to help us as our children grow! Thank you for continually letting us into your lives and teaching us something new each time!!


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