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. 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.

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

  1. Pingback: Ergobaby Blog | Mamas Who Inspire: In the Life of Rachel Coleman

  2. Pingback: Spina Bifida Awareness, Day 29 | A word to the many, not just the wise.

  3. You and your family are an inspiration to me as a parent and as a studying Occupational Therapy Assistant.

    Congrats on your love, strength, bonding, and fearlessness!

    I am moved by your story, and motivated to keep carrying my 13 month old as well. [thank goodness she is only 20 pounds at the moment!]

    I’d like to share your story with my class and teachers and other clients in the future.

  4. We 12 year old wear too! I had a Beco for a long time and he was totally outgrowing it, then someone send me an article with you carrying Lucy in her hawk!
    I called them and we had a Dylan hawk with in a month based on the same measurements you had for Lucy’s!
    Dylan is now over 65 lbs and it has been harder to carry him very far my physical limit is about 2 miles, but he also enjoys riding on my back on trips to the grocery store (he still insists on sitting in the child seat most of the time!)
    And have a Jogging stroller that works well on the trails, unfortunatly it came off the roof of our van on a road trip and needs extensive repairs:(
    A friend just sold me a (very used) Chariot chassis for almost nothing! I purchased the hiking pole attachment and gave it to Dylan as a Christmas gift! It looks like he’s in a rickshaw!
    We’ve only done about 14 miles with it so far in 2013 but I am excited to be able to actually back pack alittle with my husband and Dylan! Hopefully this spring!
    I tried to contact baby hawk to get a larger carrier made, and I’m willing to pay extra, but they haven’t returned my emails:(
    Do you still use your ‘hawk ?
    (Pictures on my FB page)

  5. Thank you for this article! Our family is in the process of adopting two six year old little girls from China, and both are diagnosed with CP. I have been wondering how to do the crowded streets in Asia, and this just might be the answer! My husband and I could each wear one of them! Excited and researching possibilities….

  6. Inspiring and heart-warming. What a wonderful way to bring the family together and defy the limitations a classification like “Special needs” puts on the life of that family. Beautiful supergirls, and wonderful superparents!

  7. My friend just linked me to this post after reading my desperate facebook plea for a way to keep carrying my six year olds who has profound special needs. I have been pushing the limits of my ergo for years as she weighs 55 lbs. After wearing her for several hours yesterday, my back and neck are complaining. I am looking through your list of suggested carriers and would love to hear of any new ones you’ve come across!

  8. Pingback: the places we go…brought to you by kidwearing | love explosions

  9. Pingback: The Adoption Transition to Parenting: Learning English and Signing Time videos | Laura Menenberg

  10. Pingback: The Wheelchair I never wanted | Being Max's Mom

  11. Pingback: The Wheelchair I never wanted | Being Max's Mom

  12. Woah this website is fantastic i enjoy studying your content. Be up the good paintings! You are already aware, many men and women are searching all-around for this info, you may assist them tremendously.

  13. Pingback: My Most Inspirational Moms - The More The Merrier

  14. Hello Rachel,
    You make me happy. I have a son who can not hear, can’t see, and has little body movement. He also has a seisure desorder. There is a question I have and think you are the right person to help me out. My son is 30 pounds, almost 2, and 88 cememters tall. I want to carry him but I can not find a carrier that will hold him. Is there a company that can help me? I have been looking but I don’t think I am looking in the right places. if you could give me a name of a company, a brand, anything it would really help out.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart,

  15. You guys rock!! Your children are so lucky to have you have as parents!! I love your determination and perseverance to keep moving forward in life. But from reading your story, I can tell it’s a journey that you are embracing everyday. I pray for your continued mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health!

    Peace & Blessings.

    • I loved reading your post! It’s so hard to find solutions for traveling with a disabled child. I have a 2 1/2 yr old little girl (variety of diagnosis’ and still not sure what’s causing what) I would really like to start taking her out hiking, but have no idea what to use! She’s about 28 lbs, pretty decent neck control but can’t sit unassisted. And every backpack info I read says not to use if the child can’t sit unassisted! If you have any recommendations, I’d appreciate it 🙂

      Thank you! And give your girls a hug from me. We have such strong and beautiful angels in our lives!

  16. hi there – just found your blog while searching for baby carriers for special needs kids. My son just turned 3 and has CP, and like you we love to take him everywhere, but he is starting to outgrow our standard metal-frame backpack. He doesn’t have great head and trunk control, so we’d love to find something with head support as well as good lateral support… I see you use at least three different ones – any recommendations? THANK YOU!!!

  17. I just had to tell you what an inspiration you and your whole family are. Your love and dedication (which I know you see as just who you are) to your children and to giving them exactly the life you always had planned for them is to be commended. I pray prayers for your family that you and your husband will be healthy and strong for years and years to come and when you can no longer carry your precious girl that God will bring into your lives someone to continue on helping to make your daughters life amazing. daughter is having her 1st baby and was trying to explain this whole baby sling and keeping her son close as long as she can. I must admit I didn’t really understand why this was such an important parenting plan for her. After reading your story I am going to get myself a sling for my 1st grandchild so I can keep him close when he is with me. Thank you so much.

  18. Rachel (or anyone else looking for big carriers),

    Please take a look at Bloo Kangaroo. I am in no way affiliated with the company, I am just a devoted customer. I have four carriers from Bloo Kangaroo now, though I only have two children and generally only wear one of them. We two of the J size, an XT (which the baby currently uses), and an XTP for my 5-year-old. However, the 5-year-old can sit comfortably in the smallest sized Kanga in a pinch, and my husband has carried *me* in the preschool sized carrier, just for a test run. I weigh 150lbs and am 5’6″, so that is one sturdy carrier! They’re a little on the pricey side – each of mine was around $200 – but they are worth every penny. In addition to being sturdy, they are beautiful, comfortable, and fully customizable both in fabric choice and strap lengths. There is even a mesh model now for hot summer days. Check out

  19. Hello and thank you for the inspiration. My son is 3 1/2 and 3 feet tall about 30lbs. He has Miller Dieker Syndrome with no head/trunk control and now has a tracheostomy tube- I want to carry him because I long for the closeness the wheelchair can’t offer. Question: any tips on how to carry/adapt a carrier for someone of his size and issues? For ease of access to his Trach now mainly this will be more difficult.
    Thank you very much!

  20. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for. Babywearing (or childwearing;) and kids with special needs. It opens up a whole ‘nother world.

    To: Catherine
    Do you have access to an innovative and open-minded occupational or physical therapist? Is there a trained babywearing educator or BWI chapter in your area that could help you figure out what type of carrier and what type of carry would work best for you two?

  21. Wow. this is such an inspiring post. I have a son with cerebral palsy and at 4 he is getting too old to carry easily. Additionally, I the relationship with the husband is on the rocks and I was feeling so overwhelmed about the lack of mobility. This post is so precious, because the husband and I were avid outdoor people at a point before it all went downhill. I used to baby wear him when he was young and have no idea why I stopped. I need to get back to this. Need to throw open the world again.

  22. Hi Rachel,
    I’m not sure you’ll get this or have a chance to read, but I just have really wanted to share. You have inspired me so much. We have a 3 1/2 year old daughter diagnosed with congenital CMV, her challenges include profound hearing loss, visual impairment, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. There is a quick glimpse for you here on my blog where I wrote just a bit about the impact you’ve had on my life:
    I also helped do a little video for an organization I’m participating in a weight loss challenge with…if you get a chance to watch, you might recognize some of my words and my heart…you inspired so many of them. (Link: ) I had been in a very dark place for 6+ months following a very severe seizure our little Tessa had…and finding your blog and experiencing the world of carrying my daughter and being strong enough for it to always be an option, is a HUGE thanks to you. Thank you for sharing your heart and your journey. I’ve almost read thru every single one of your posts and I just wanted to let you know that your ‘Strong Enough’ posts and the one about how hard marriage can be, have just been so inspirational to me on my own journey. Blessings to you and your family!!

  23. Pingback: Core Muscle Development of the Wearer | Therapeutic Babywearing (c)

  24. To Catherine Kew:
    Babyhawk doesn’t typically do customs but you can always contact the owner and ask. Bamberoo, Madame GooGoo and Kanga all do custom widths, heights and strap/waist lengths. Also, Kinderpack makes toddler and preschool sizes that would probably fit your 5 year old perfectly! We have some more information on big kid wearing at

  25. Hi Rachel,

    We are looking to take our 6 yr old daughter hiking in the Rockies. We are looking for a carrier to take her in. I really liked the look of the carrier you are using in the picture above “Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone 2009”.

    What kind of carrier is that?



  26. So if I may ask a question- my daughter like yours was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. because of her head shape and near none movement at four years old she does not have head control and cannot sit up- positioning is of utmost importance and wondering if you have any suggestions- we wore our older daughter in a moby and I love its comfort! but it is not supportive enough and yet to restrictive for a girl who wants to see the world! I can not afford to buy several wraps and we do not live near lenders. well any suggestions to modify the moby or something like it would be greatly appreciated! btw she only weighs 18 lbs. and it needs to be cool- she can not regulate body temp well the other big issue with moby. thanks in advance! our goal is to always have her with use- not many understand that- you know sitting in the grass not strped in a seat somewhere

  27. Pingback: You’re a Babywearer If … | Manic Pixie Dream Mama

  28. We love this post, Rachel! You are an inspiration to parents who have children with special needs. Thank you for showing all of us how amazing wearing your child is and how helpful it can be when children have different abilities. At Lift Me Up: Babywearing to Thrive, we give carriers (for free) to families who have children with special needs. We LOVE giving these families the tool of babywearing to make their lives better and a little bit easier day to day.
    Thank you for inspiring all of us!
    Lift Me Up: Babywearing to Thrive

  29. This is very encouraging as I’m trying to figure out how to take my 11yo son with Duchenne muscular dystrophy on hikes with us. He’s almost 100# and I’m only 5’2.5″. My husband is 6’1″ but has bad knees. Any advice?

  30. Wow! I stumbled against this blog by accident-how very inspirational! What amazing parents you both are not to have given up on letting your beautiful girl see the world in a different sort of way! God Bless your Family!

  31. Pingback: Babywearing as an Inclusionary Act | Therapeutic Babywearing (c)

  32. I am so very happy to see this…we found out we were pregnant…we were thrilled…then we found out it was twins…shocked, nervous…unsure of ourselves as this is our first pregnancy…and then 4 weeks later…we learned that both of our children will have special needs…as you said, a wave of emotions washed over me…we are a very active family as well…I became overwhelmed and saddened by the things our children may never be able to do…this post has lifted my spirits…and i plan to follow your path and be our childrens legs..i thank you for writing this article…i’m not sure you will ever know the depths of which it has touched me.

  33. I’m a babywearing mum who loves your signing time. DVDs
    Kinderpack make a preschooler soft structured carrier which is rated to 50lbs
    preschool 20″h x 20″ w- ages 3-5 yrs :starting at 35 lbs/38″ tall: This is truly the largest child carrier made. Great for big kids and kids with special needs who still want to be carried through the preschool years.

  34. Thank you so much for this article. I have been searching the internet for a carrier for my 6 year old Sun who has Cerebral Palsy and you have certainly provided useful information which has pointed me in the right direction on finding a carrier. If you have the opportunity to let me know what specific carrier you used for Lucy in Yellowstone and also the one Albion Basin. This will be so awesome to finally get my Sun out of his wheelchair and on my back. Infinite blessings -=-

    • I’m looking to find out what types of carrier was used in Yellowstone as I’m wanting to bring my daughter rock climbing to my favourite outdoor spot but her little legs may tire too quickly. I would also be packing in all of my gear and food so it would need to be light weight

  35. It’s so crazy that I ran across this article on Pinterest the day after I bought my first Tula. My daughter, Rowan was born severely premature at 27 weeks December 2008. After 91 days in NICU she came home. I wore her a bit with a borrowed moby wrap. I just didn’t do it long enough. I didn’t have any knowledge or support in baby wearing so I gave up.
    She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months. We always hoped and prayed she would eventually walk.
    She has a major spinal surgery about 5 months ago to hopefully help her eventually be able to walk.
    While talking with a friend just yesterday, she mentioned what she used to carry her children. She said the Tula went up to 50# and I was immediately interested. My daughter loves it. When you mentioned about your daughter not being able to see things that were out of wheelchair accessibility I knew exactly how you felt. We also are our daughters legs. This gave me so much encouragement knowing how much she will get to see and experience now that we are wearing her. We used to carry her everywhere but that was really hurting my back. The Tula changed our lives!

  36. Inspiring blog! Worth it to read.
    You can also try our child carrier > Piggyback Rider revolutionary backpack kid carrier that’s perfect for toddlers (2½+ years) and older children alike.

  37. So awesome! What a beautiful family you have and what inspiring parents you are.

    If it hasn’t been suggested, Kinderpack makes a preschool carrier! Perfect for those older kids who want or need to be carried.

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