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

  1. Really inspiring post, mama. You have taken your girls to some amazing places 🙂

    My almost-5yr old still loves to be carried. We liked our Kanga XTP, and I am still squeezing her into our very comfy Oh Snap, but if I was going to be carrying her frequently for a while longer I would definitely want to try one of the new Huckepack Toddlers – they’re 20″ wide and the straps can fasten to the waistband instead of the sides to help spread your child’s weight.

  2. I was wearing my son (2 years at the time) at a horse show where I was helping my dad. A lady looked at me and said, ” Oh girl, don’t hurt your back. I’m sure that little boy can walk.”

    I replied, “Oh yeah, he can also run!”

    I love that when wearing him, he is extra safe. I could be around be athletic horses and be helpful because I was wearing him rather than parking him in a stroller waiting for it to get kicked by a horse.

  3. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story! Your family is a great example to all of us! I hope you don’t mind but we shared your story with our fans and readers. All the best!

  4. I want to thank you for giving me new hope that I can carry my son. I have been looking for the last 2 months for a carrier that will work for my 6.5 year old who weighs 60lbs. Everyone keeps saying hes too heavy to even try it but its just needed. I will keep looking for a carrier that will work for him and give it a try.

    You have some very lucky little girls!

  5. I know better than to read your blog in the morning, but I did it and now I’ll puffy eyed and talking about you non-stop. You truly are an inspiration! I thought you were awesome enough for creating Signing Time, but carrying your daughter so she can experience a world she would otherwise never see, nothing short of AMAZING!!!!

  6. I already loved you for Baby Signing Time. It helped so much for Emily my 2 year old with Noonan Syndrome. I love you even more for being a baby wearer. I will wear Emily as long as she will let me and I can. You are amazing. You continue to wear Lucy as long as you and your husband are physically able. You are amazing and an inspiration.

  7. I think it’s so sweet and amazing that you have worn her for so long! Such a gift you have given her. Just wanted to say that you should totally try a preschool size Kinderpack. It has a very tall and wide panel, and is very supportive.

  8. I love this post. So beautiful and inspiring. I wear 6 month old and my two year old (separately)and get comments all the time. I’m so happy to see such a positive and warming story of people like me!

  9. As an interpreter for the Deaf, I’m curious if you sign with your Deaf child? I’m so inspired by your willingness to help Lucy see the world! What a great example you are!!!

    • haha clearly I didn’t read the rest of your blog–or even know what blog I was on–when I posted that last comment. My sister posted a link to this entry because we were talking about baby wearing at the zoo today. So a baby wearer AND a signer? How cool are you?! 🙂

  10. I just want to say this is so inspiring!!!! My son has special needs and is often more comfortable on my back than in a stroller.

    If you are looking for a new carrier, i would recomend a Boba. I bought one for my son and totally love it! I tested it out with my 9yr old neice (46lbs) and she was pretty comfortable back there! She liked that there was foot straps so he legs wernt dangling! You could probably email them and see if they have one you could reveiw!

    (I dont work for Boba, just a very happy customer)

    • I second the Boba recommendation! I still have a “little” guy (10 months, 20-lbs), but so far I’m finding it much more comfortable than my Ergo. I think it has something to do with the higher panel snuggling him in closer to me. Whatever it is… I absolutely LOVE it!

  11. Pingback: Babywearing blogs

  12. Another parent posted a link to this page on our website (CambridgespedPAC) and hence I clicked onto it for the first time today. It is truly moving to see what lengths we parents will go though to make the world more accessible for our children. Whether your child learns differently or experiences the world via a different avenue, it is our responsibility to assist them (while they negotiate the world/environment).
    I applaud your tenacity, love, commitment.
    You are wonderful parents : )
    Be well

  13. I just found your blog through Boston Babywearers today and am totally awe-struck by the love that’s so evident within your family. Lucy and Leah are such beautiful, happy girls and they are so lucky to have such incredible parents! Thank you for sharing your parenting journey with us. 🙂

  14. I came across your blog from a link in a private forum for special needs kids that have suffered a hypoxic event at birth. I want you to know that you have inspired me in a big way. My son is 3 months old and 100% of children in his condition get the CP diagnosis even though it will not officially come until a bit later. I have felt so incredibly down lately about the places he wouldn’t be able to go in a stroller and later in a wheel chair. I recently made a homemade moby wrap so I could get him around but You have made me determined to carry my son as long as I can. He *will* get to see the beauty of
    God’s earth! Thank you for this post!

    • Chills, Melissa! You gave me chills. Yesterday I brought Lucy to the gym with me. (It’s a private gym with personal trainers) Another woman passed by while I was on the rowing machine and she said, “How can you be so strong?” I smiled and thumbed over at Lucy rolling around in her power wheels. “How could I be anything but strong? It’s for her.”

  15. This is incredible. We’ve recently discovered Signing Time and in just a couple of weeks my 1yo has started signing so much! While digging around for more info on your site, I came across this and like you even more. 🙂 We’re a babywearing family and I think it’s BEAUTIFUL that you bring your daughters into every aspect of your lives. Keep wearing, momma (and daddy!!).

    • Rosemary, (Love your name BTW) I’m glad that you found us! We are co-sleeping, tandem nursing, natural birthing (when fetal surgery isn’t needed) kiddo-wearing parents. My mom had nine children and breastfed them all. She had a home birth with one of my sibs and it just made sense to all of us. A handful of mommas have been begging for my tandem nursing story… keep an eye out for that. Hope you stick around
      ~R

  16. As someone who works with people with disabilities I love seeing you rise to the challenge to give both your daughters the best the workd can offer and that means experiences too

  17. Thank you for your blog. My son is a left leg amputee. I also vowed that we would never leave him behind or alter our activities. He has outgrown what is avaible in our smalltown. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experiences with different carriers.

  18. How would you (really, I, someone without a big kid who needs carried) go about introducing/suggesting big kid wearing to someone who has a special needs kid always in a wheel chair? I see this lady at school and think how much easier her life would be if she just had a carrier! The boy is small enough to wear easily. Probably a 4 y/o. Maybe I should just print this and give it to her?

  19. The first mei tai I ever wore, I tried it first with a 55 pound child, and it worked great. I’ve seen the Kozy Carrier used for adults to carry adults.

    FOr me, the best “heavy kid” mei tai was actually a Scandinavian Tettitett. And the most comfortable carrier ever was the Calyx, which is not made anymore, unfortunately.

  20. Good for you mama.

    I wore mine through cancer, and I think that there should be someone out there advocating more for kids with health and physical limitations. When the chemotherapy temporaily took my daughters ability to walk, there was no way I was going to put her further away from me into a stroller, so instead of weaning from wearing at two years, we did the same thing. I carried her for the last time at the age of six. If she needed it today I would still wrap her up and off we would go.

    All the best to you and yours.
    K.

  21. LOVE LOVE LOVE!! Lucy is LIVING because of you and you are able to live too!! I love that Leah could hear your heartbeats too! I applaud your bravery to be different despite society’s norms.

    We wore my daughter and found it so convenient, especially going through airport screenings where they even let me leave her in the sling. I could zoom around wonderfully. But you have taken it to another level. Brings tear to my eyes & warms my heart!

    Keep being strong!!

  22. You are so amazing! Your strength is inspiring and so are your daughters! I wanted to mention another carrier that you may not have heard of before or tried called the Kinderpack. She makes larger size carriers, her preschool size is very large. And they are such comfortable carriers. We love baby signing time and signing time and feel honored and blessed to have you in our home everyday!

  23. Hi Rachel-
    I’m a PT doing a post about babywearing and kids with special needs. I would love to link to this page. Use(d) signing for my kids and recognized you in one of the online videos! Love your overall story too and that you are a runner!

  24. I am a cloth diapering babywearing mama that has a slow talking 2 year old. I can’t even begin to tell you how your videos/books and flash cards (we use them as communication cards!) have helped our family. We are so grateful for how wonderful and easy your program is and how it has helped our baby to communicate with us and after reading this I just feel even closer to you guys, it warms my heart 🙂

  25. Pingback: Toddler and Tandem Babywearing « alivingfamily

  26. This is an amazing journey through pictures! You are a blessing to your babies:)
    Have you considered a woven wrap? I personally find it more comfy for lengthy wearing of my 40lb 4yr old….just a thought though 🙂

  27. Wow, that is impressive! I feel slightly less floored after seeing she weighs the same as my 5-year-old however, lol – I can safely say I will NOT be carrying him anywhere when he is eleven. He will weigh more than I do by then!!

  28. I realize that first comment may sound a bit callous. I didn’t realize your daughter is handicapped, that makes a lot more sense and I congratulate you for doing everything necessary to give her a full life. The link I followed just said “Eleven-year-old wearing” so I thought it was simply your way of ensuring your kids can go to amazing places with you.

  29. Pingback: Babywearing: The Benefits of Babywearing

  30. Looking for a way to wear my 7-year-old disabled son on the side but facing forward

    Hello,

    I am a dad of a 7-year-old physically disabled boy with cerebral palsy and profound deafness.

    I am looking for a solution to wear him on my left hip, but with him facing forward.
    Only in this position am I able to communicate to him via sign language. This is also the best position for him to communicate to me via eye gaze and facial expression.

    The nature of his CP is that his muscles can suddenly go very stiff, or suddenly go very loose (he is not able to sit up on him own, walk or crawl). Thus, I need a support system that is able to accommodate these motions and keep him safe without him slipping out of the sling.

    I have tried several slings (Mai Tai, Ring sling), and I’m finding that the side-facing position doesn’t work well for us.

    Any help / ideas would be appreciated

  31. Hello, Rachel.

    My son is a 7-year-old physically disabled boy with cerebral palsy and profound deafness. He is getting quite big – 40 Lbs and 34 inches tall.

    I was happy to see that you are a babywearing advocate, I am planning on taking a Disney cruise to Alaska this summer and I would like to take my son on his first hike up a glacier.

    I am looking for a solution to wear him on my left hip, but with him facing forward.
    Only in this position am I able to communicate to him via sign language. This is also the best position for him to communicate to me via eye gaze and facial expression.

    The nature of his CP is that his muscles can suddenly go very stiff, or suddenly go very loose (he is not able to sit up on him own, walk or crawl). Thus, I need a support system that is able to accomodate these motions and keep him safe without him slipping out of the sling.

    I have tried several slings (Mai Tai, Ring sling), and I’m finding that the side-facing position doesn’t work well for us.

    Any help / ideas would be appreciated

  32. Pingback: Ergobaby Blog | Mamas Who Inspire: Rachel Coleman

  33. Hi, I’m doing a talk to a group of doulas and pregnant women about babywearing. Please could I quote some of your site to show that you can keep on going as long as it suits you and your family? You are so inspirational and I thought it would be a lovely point to end on. Thank you! Sall

  34. You rock. I loooove those pics. And I can’t believe that people still stop and stare, but I guess babywearing isn’t mainstream yet? I’ve gotten those too, and my son is only 11 months and I have no intention of stopping.

  35. Great post Rachel! My son is 14, has CP and a bit over 40kg and I’m just starting to accept that I can’t keep carrying him, it had to happen at some point! We go amazing places that he has no ability to go on wheels and have amzing photo’s thankfully as momentos of the places he’s been on my back that he won’t be able to get to in future. Ergo’s weren’t around when he first grew out of baby carriers so I used a 3m length of fabric and tied him to me, it’s very comfortable and he’s stable and really loves it, can send you pics if it helps you with Leah when she grows out of carriers 🙂

  36. I Love your story!! What a special and blessed family you have. Your kids are so lucky to have such strong dedicated parents who have truely taken what it means to be a parent to the highest level. I am an avid babywearer myself and have just gotten started as my only child so far is just 11 months. I carry her as much as I can and have also been working out with her on me…it has helped me to lose all the weight I gained during pregnancy and then some! I truely believe it has created an even stronger bond between the two of us than I could ever have imagined. I hope to be able to carry her for a long time to come. My Baby Hawk is my favorite carrier so far 🙂
    Thank you again for sharing your story! I hope it finds it’s way to more people so they can enjoy the benifits it offers to the entire family.

  37. Yes! This is us too, only my son has a different spinal cord issue. I, too, want to take him everywhere. What would be the best carrier for 25 pounds and 36 inches tall? Any help you can give would be great!

Leave a Reply to Rachel Coleman Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.