When Rachel Walter was a little girl, she dreamed of adopting a child someday. Eventually, in travels for her former employer, the University of Findlay (UF), that desire was enhanced. On one visit to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, a UF student showed Rachel a picture he had taken. The camera had captured Rachel holding a woman’s sweetly sleeping baby. The photo was the clincher, says Rachel, a single woman. That photo helped Rachel understand there are many ways to build a family.
The adoption journey begins
And so, at age 32, in March 2016, Rachel channeled her research-oriented personality toward the pursuit of adoption. Though she expected nay-say-ers among her family and friends, there were none.
Rachel turned to the America World Adoption Agency. Due to her young age and marital status, as well as her desire to choose a country whose adoption practices were deemed highly ethical, India became the best choice. Throughout the 19-month process, Rachel explains she expected a call saying, “You’re not allowed, or you’re not eligible!” Instead a call came in February 2017 with word that she had been matched with a child. And finally, in October 2017, she travelled with her aunt to India to retrieve her son, 4-year-old Ezekiel Deepak Walter.
Be aware, but be astounded
Rachel, now the director of community engagement at Findlay’s Family Resource Center says those considering international adoption should fully expect a child with developmental delays. “The only kids eligible for international adoptions are kids with special needs. But that term is different than we often think of “special needs” in the United States. Special needs can mean an older age, attachment to a sibling group, or some minor, but fully correctable, physical condition,” she said.
Rachel explains, “(Zeke) has done amazingly well!” She credits the laser focus the mother and son had while bonding one-on-one. Zeke was highly verbal, but didn’t know any English. “People don’t believe it, but communication was truly never a problem,” explained Rachel. Similar to the way an attentive mother of an infant learns the child’s non-verbal cues, Rachel did the same. And she was communicating with a very bright 4-year-old during those early attempted conversations.
Intentionally finding connections
With Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati just a few hours away, Rachel and Zeke have had opportunities to experience Indian cultural events. They have attended “Holi” which is a “Festival of Color”, traditionally held to celebrate spring, and they always stop at an Indian grocery store chain when visiting Columbus. Rachel has also been delighted to find through social media a “weirdly large number of single moms who have adopted from India and who reside in Ohio.” In fact, a trip to Niagara Falls was planned this summer to unite the group.
Rachel is also committed to providing Zeke with male role models and “racial mirrors”—individuals in Zeke’s life who share his race/ethnicity and to whom he can look to see himself. Even so, Rachel admits to “going into it a little naive, not fully understanding the time and energy needed to make sure he has positive mirrors in his life.”
Rachel’s efforts include intentionally buying only children’s books with illustrations depicting people of color, and she takes advantage of continued connections with international students on the UF campus. “Right now, he’s a sweet little boy,” she said. “But he will be a man of color someday and I want to teach him how to be safe and how to be strong and how to be proud of that.”