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.

This entry was posted in Crazy Little Thing Called Life, Strong Enough 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. www.deafchildren.org 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 www.mydeafchild.org. For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on www.SignItASL.com. 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.

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

    • I agree with you, Kai! Rachel, you are definitely an exceptional lady. Good for you to laugh at the world and go head-first into it – with Lucy in tow! I know that she appreciates all that you have given her by carrying her to and through all of these wonderful places in the world, and she will never forget any of it, I’m sure. God bless you and your family!

  1. As a fellow baby-wearing Mama, I especially loved today’s blog!!! I love the sentiments behind keeping both Leah and now Lucy close to your hearts and the photos are great 🙂 And, I really love your “Lucy Hawk”!!! BH is one of my favorite MT’s. (Another is a bamberoo and is great for older/bigger kids–at least I can comfortably wear my 6.5 year old.)

    Thanks for sharing!!!
    Much love,
    Kim

  2. I so love your commitment to including Lucy in every aspect of your lives! She is very blessed to have such a wonderful family – just as I know you are blessed by her.

    Have you tried a Boba carrier? I haven’t personally used them but hear great things for bigger kids (which usually means toddlers, of course). One of the unique features it has are stirrups for little feet to ride in. I don’t know that they’d adjust enough for Lucy, but, it might be a good one if it did. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your lives with us!

  3. Thanks for this! I am in the process of adopting an almost three year old from China who is Deaf, and I am looking forward to “wearing” her as much as possible to promote bonding. Question — have you used a front carrier with an older child? Which one do you like best? Do any of the back carriers allow for easy sign communication?

    Thanks!

  4. you are the most amazing parents EVER!!!!! I am always so inspired by you! thank you for everything you and your family give to the world!

  5. I cannot tell you how timely this post is for me. As my litte one is about to turn three and be “required” by the school district to have a wheelchair since she’s not yet walking, I’ve started noticing how inaccessible our world truly is for those on wheels, and its just killed me. Just as I was starting to think, “we can handle this” about the wheelchair, I’d notice a place where it just wouldn’t work. Like the beach, which is a mile from our house. And my heart would hurt. Thank you for reminding me that there are ALWAYS creative solutions. And that our girls’ physical limits don’t have to really limit them in any way. The sky is the limit.

  6. I love baby wearing! I wear both my kids. I think people underestimate how much muscle power and strength you need even if you only carry a small one. KUDOS and keep wearing!!

  7. Hooray!! Team Strong Enough is amazing… you, Aaron, and the girls are amazing. I love your attitude and am continually inspired by you.
    As always, thank you for sharing.

    And side note… do you know how much you have added to Lucy’s huge, developing, information- seeking brain with all the high level exposure she gets… perspective- physically being UP- is sooo important and just shows her the world. The places you go, the things she sees, and the physical level at which she gets to take it in.
    You guys are wonderful!

    xox

  8. I’m also a babywearer/toddler wearer too. I started out because; as a deaf mama, I needed both hands free to talk. I just kept going when it turned out my son had special needs. I understand! 🙂

  9. This is a good time to say once again “Thank you Rachel!” because you challenged me on this. Nina is only 5 and I don’t carry her that much…yet. The other day I was pushing her wheelchair through some tall uneven grass and thought how wheelchairs are not always easy!
    Nina is beginning to take independent steps but we know she will never be a long distance walker. So I always have my babyhawk ready.
    And, I am waiting for the girls to go to school so I can get strong enough…literally! I am a weakling and my back is paying for it as I carry Nina (even though she is only 30 pounds, carrying that weiht in all different ways can be tough!)

  10. This was awesome! Thank you for sharing this. It certainly puts me to shame, thinking that my 27lb toddler is too heavy to wear anymore.

  11. By wearing Lucy you have shown the world that children are a part of you always. Some people receive gifts they can wear.some wear hats some wear new coats some wear their hearts on their sleeves… you wear the greatest gift ever. And you wear her well. Thank you for showing us that wearing your children is such a gift… just like Lucy is to you…and you are to her. She will always know that.

  12. Our family just returned this evening from a spur of the moment walk to the library and back and covered just under four miles. Our youngest was in a stroller and part of the way home my 11 yr old required a piggy back ride because of a stitch in her side. It was so nice to do this all together, so hip hip hooray for all the activities you do together Coleman family.
    I was super impressed this week to see a Mom with six kids at Target including two non walking children: a baby carried on her back and one in the front – no stroller! (I’m thinking hang gliding harnesses must be adaptable for larger children, but it sounds like you’ve already got things that work for you.)
    As Dr. Suess once said, ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’, and you have gone and continue to go!!

  13. You know that you and the family are my inspiration! You’re the ‘been there, done that’ for me with Cole! Each next step for us leads me back to you, and Lucy (of course)! I’m right there with you on continuing to do whatever it is our family does without letting the disability (or ALL the equipment) stop us! Love all the awesome pics and love y’all! =)

  14. What a wonderful gift you’re giving Lucy each time you carry her to a place she couldn’t go in a wheelchair. I am so impressed and moved by this post.

  15. Rebecca shared this link on FB and I couldn’t help commenting this time, as I am quite passionate about babywearing myself… I already knew that you carried Lucy to many places, but reading this post and looking at the photos still left me admiring your strength, love and determination. We are avid ‘babywearers’, our 5 year old son still loves rides in the backpack. I can only hope we’ll be strong enough for our children to carry them whenever and wherever they need to be carried.

  16. As a mother of an autistic son I live by the motto “It takes a special person to raise a special child”. You and Aron are by far special people, and blessed with such special children. Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring us all.

    I carried my son in a sling and loved it. He is now turning 6 and 55 pounds. I often have him in a stroller for his safety since he wonders off. I never thought of a back carrier. I will have to look into them now.

  17. Oh Rachel…

    Our daughter, Sasha, has Spina Bifida and I could have written much of this post. While Sasha is only 3, we wear her often so we can be her legs. Sasha has been a signer since her first year and demands daily to see “Baby Time” even though we’ve moved on the regular “Signing Time”. 🙂

    I’m so passionate about wearing my child that I started up a little shop to bring GOOD babywearing to my friends in the area. After wearing our son in a less than decent carrier, I knew we needed something better for Sasha.

    We have a clear “no victims” philosophy at our home. We adapt and we move on. You and your husband must be the same.

    Your familiy’s story is such a big part of our story. Thank you for everything. Sincerely…thank you!

  18. I bought an Ergobaby last year to carry my daughter Clare on my back. I have a framed back pack I use for her also. She is 7 1/2 years old and is very small she is 33lbs and 42 inches tall. She has PVL and Spastic Quad CP. She is mobile but tires very easily. When we go camping I bring her special needs stroller or all terrain wagon and either the back pack or Ergo carrier. I carry her on the trails and this winter I cross country skied with her on my back. I have had people ask me how I can carry her, I am not a tall person, but you do what you have to in order for her to not be left behind. I love reading your post and my daughters love your DVDs. Clare my youngest learned how to communicate because of you. Thank you!

  19. Rachel, you are amazing. You always bring tears to my eyes whether its reading your Bio and blog, or through your music. Amazing.

  20. So many people miss out on the joys of having a family with unique dynamics. Sure it’s more work, but well worth the benefits. I got a little teary when you said Lucy thanked you for carrying her. snif’… Love your blogs!

    Lorie

  21. I’m not sure how much your daughter can do because of the spina bifida. But my husband just discovered the “piggyback rider”. It’s designed for older children but they do need to be able to stand. Check it out at www.thePiggybackRider.com
    Way to go on taking her to the world around her, it shows your love and dedication to your daughter.

  22. What a beautiful family!! This is my first time reading here and I am so glad to see the issue of baby-wearing special needs children.

    My family’s situation was a little different. Our 5th child was born with a pretty significant bilateral cleft. For the most part people have been very nice about it but for a noticeable number of people, they were just awestruck (it was pretty hard to ignore for people who aren’t her parents). I kid you not, one lady, a total stranger at the grocery store, tried to stick her finger into my Sofie’s mouth. When I wore Sofie, since it creates such closeness, people were not as apt to invade an adult’s personal space.

    I admire so much your dedication to your sweet girls. I am sure that they will do that much better because of the closeness and consideration for their perspective in life.

  23. This came at the perfect time – a time when I struggle with whether or not to carry our 8 yr old CP kiddo. Your post gives me courage and much needed endurance.

  24. What a beautiful post. Your dedication and ferociousness and a parent shines through in your words. My own words are floundering at the moment, but I am so full of love for you and your daughters <3.

  25. What a fabulous story about the power of baby wearing and attached parenting. I thought that you might be interested in the Manduca baby carrier from Germany. It isn’t available in the US yet, but it has a zipper panel across the body of the carrier that extends it to about 4inches taller than the Ergo. It’s really great for taller kids. I love mine.

  26. You guys are awesome! I admire your dedication to being strong enough. I wore Phenley for about 2 years. I was willing to wear her longer, but she wasn’t willing to be worn! We used slings, mei tei’s and wraps. We also hike a lot and have a Kelty for that, which she will still use. I want to try a soft structured carrier with my next.

  27. Thank you for sharing! You are such an inspiration!

    We love our Ergo! I’ve carried both of my kids many places in it. I am very fond of baby wearing, and although it definitely isn’t that big here where I live, I do it anyway. Every time my daughter is on my back I always get the comment “so, what do you have back there? Oh my!”

  28. As always, Rachel, you amaze me. I love your strength and look up to you and Aaron so much. Your family is beautiful and unique. You are trend-setters and leaders in a time when people are desperate for something positive to follow. I love you guys!!

  29. Wow! Good for you. I have an Ergo and my three-year-old still likes to be carried in it as much as my one-year-old does. Looks like you’ve found some good carriers. I think as parents, we need to be looking on the bright side — what we can do instead of what we can’t do — and open those opportunities up for our children. Thanks for sharing how you do it. 🙂

  30. Come visit us in Yosemite and come hike with us. My 11 year old was in a rockslide last year (a 9000lb/4.5 ton rock fell on her, crushing her) and she was in a wheelchair for a few months. She’s now getting back to hiking and would love to have you and your daughter join us on one of our favorite hikes.

  31. We did babywearing too. Made my own wraps and sling. I have to say once my daughter was about 2 it nearly stopped just b/c she wanted so much up and down it didn’t really make much sense anymore. Even at that young age people constantly asked that question, “How long will you continue carrying her around like that?!” and other such. We ended up not owning a stroller either. We just decided not to buy one and then see how it went. I missed it twice when I had a lot of packages to carry and wished I could put them in the stroller seat! lol You are an amazing woman and have such a beautiful family! At first when I saw the title “11-year-old wearing” I thought you were kidding somehow. But, hey, it works! Good for you. I bet most people in similar situation, if they’d thought of it, would do the same thing too. Thanks for being such an inspiration for others. 🙂

  32. What pack are you using in the picture “Mammoth Hot springs Yellowstone 2009”? I am looking for a pack that will fit me, b/c I’m small framed. We bought a Kelty pack for our daughter, who is 4 and has spina bifida as well. We love taking her for hikes, but the Kelty does not fit me.
    My daughter’s PT shared your website with me, and I’m so glad, it’s so inspiring. It gives me hope that we will be able to take our little girl to the tops of mountains and more!

    • I’m obviously not Rachel, but that looks like the Ergo or another “soft structured carrier.” These carriers have straps for your shoulders and hips to bear the child’s weight (like a backpack) but don’t have the frame, so they aren’t heavy. You carry the child against your body, instead of “above” you like a frame backpack.

      For bigger/older kids, a lot of people seem to like the Boba, which is a little longer in the body than the Ergo to cut down on the “leaning back” feeling (keeps the child closer to you) and also has footstraps to keep those longer preschooler legs from dangling. Google Boba baby carrier. NOTE I don’t work for them and haven’t used one myself, just passing along what has been shared with me.

  33. just wanted go echo everyone else’s words 🙂 and, because of your last paragraph, suggest to you the ‘ultimate man carrier’. it’s a newish company, a wahd makes them. they’ve got great heavy-duty construction and are rated currently up to 65lb, but they’ve been tested for brief intervals at 200. also, most wraps can comfortably carry 50+lb. 🙂

  34. Thanks for all of your comments! On my Facebook link to this blog Kyle S. commented and recommended the WeeHoo for cycling. www.weehoobicycletrailer.com/ The next day I stopped by one of their retailers and picked one up… OH MY GOSH!! Lucy L O V E S it! Half the reason I blog is because of the wonderful, useful feedback and ideas that I get from all of YOU. Not kidding. Thanks for reading and commenting (and even not commenting for those who Lurk)

  35. Amazing! You are always inspiring. 🙂 Have you checked out the Patapum Toddler? It is meant for bigger kids, with a taller back and weight limit of 75 pounds. We have one and it is quit comfortable too. Only thing that stopped us using is was my daughter kicking the back of my knees and making us both fall down.

    You have an amazing family! Thank you for sharing them.

  36. I have a 15 month old with CP, a trach, and who is profoundly deaf. I just started wearing her last night to leave my hands more free to sign to her. So inspired by what you have done for Lucy be letting the world remain accessible.

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