He stopped in his tracks, unsure if what he heard was right. Never in all his years as a police officer did he imagine this would happen.
After all, he had just been doing his job like every other day. But, now he realized, this encounter wasn’t like any other. Unbeknownst to him, it had set off a chain of events that would change his life completely. And now, it was up to him to decide if he was ready for the challenge.
It had all started as a normal day on the job for officer Jesse Whitten. As a 10-year veteran in the Santa Rosa Police Department, he thought nothing could surprise him anymore. But he was about to be proved wrong.
On a spring day in 2017, Jesse was responding to an emergency call of a woman. When he arrived at the scene, it was very clear to him that this woman had personal issues. But then he realized something even more heartbreaking.
While he was helping the woman, she told Jesse that she was pregnant. His heart sunk at the thought of a baby being born in such a difficult situation. As a father of three daughters, he couldn’t bear the thought of any child suffering.
So he made it his mission to help this woman and give her unborn baby a fighting chance. The first thing he did was to try and get her to a safe place.
Jesse drove the woman to a shelter and told her to call him if she ever needed anything. Then he went home and told his wife, Ashley, about the incident, saying he wished he could have done more.
Ashley suggested he could keep an eye on the woman on his daily patrols, and he did — after all, the homeless population in Santa Rosa is very minimal and she was not hard to find. But what he saw in the following months only made him worry even more.
Every time he spotted the woman, Jesse stopped to chat with her and make sure she was ok. The pair started to get to know each other. One day, the woman told him about her two other children, saying they were in foster care and how much she missed them.
It turned out the officer had met these children before when he volunteered at a camp for foster children. That only made him care more for the woman’s plight.
“I knew her [other] two children from the camp I had worked at for foster youth,” recalls Jesse. “When she started talking about them, I had an immediate connection with her just by knowing who her wonderful children were.”
This made him even more determined to try and help her. Then one day in August, his wife Ashley was on a ride-along with him when they encountered the woman. The two women struck up a conversation about motherhood and its challenges. Then, something unbelievable happened.
The woman took Ashley’s hand and placed it on her womb to let her feel the baby. It was a heartwarming moment that deepened the connection between the woman and the couple.
Ashley felt proud of her husband for trying to take care of this woman and improve her circumstances. But then one day, something happened that made them both worry if it had all been for nothing.
One day, Jesse found the woman in very bad shape. It was clear that she had relapsed, so he drove her to a rehabilitation facility.
It broke his heart to see her like that, but he knew how hard it was for a person in her situation. After he dropped her off, he didn’t see or hear from her for months. He hoped she was staying on track. Then in February, he got an unexpected call.
On February 9th, Jesse and Ashley were at a Valentine’s Day party when he got a call from county officials. They told him the woman was at the hospital and had just given birth.
They said she had asked for him. Surprised and intrigued, Jesse and Ashley drove to the hospital, where the woman told the officer why she had called for him.
At the hospital, county officials told Jesse the woman’s baby qualified for emergency placement in foster care given that the woman wasn’t fit to raise her.
But when the woman was asked if this was what she wanted, she instead asked them to call Jesse. It appeared she wanted him and Ashley to adopt the child. And when he went in to talk to her, she confirmed it.
“I knew you had daughters. I knew you were firm, but you were fair,” the woman told Jesse. He was blindsided, but he continued to listen to her.
“She had this vision of her daughter playing in tutus with her sisters. That’s what she said she wanted,” he explains. It was a big decision for him and Ashley to make. But when they met the baby, the answer was clear.
“She’s so adorable,” said Jesse of the newborn girl. “She will cry if she needs something, obviously as babies do, but as soon as we would touch her, she’d immediately stop crying. She knew right away that she was safe.”
It was clear from that moment that this was meant to be, so they accepted the woman’s request to adopt the child. But the transition would not be easy.
The baby had to stay in the hospital for weeks while she overcame some initial health challenges. But she was strong, and she was able to recover perfectly.
The next hurdle would be to make the adoption official. It took months of paperwork and court appearances but finally, in August of this year, the baby became a Whitten. But that didn’t mean her birth mother was forgotten.
The baby girl was named Harlow Maisey Whitten. Her middle name was chosen by her birth mother. “This is to say, ‘She loved you and we loved you and we both named you,’” said Jesse.
They also visited the woman several times throughout the adoption process. “We were talking and I was saying to her, ‘You made this choice for her and that we are so grateful,’” remembers Ashley. “And she said, ‘You’re her mother now.’” And the Whittens hope to help more children in the future.
Although they have no plans to adopt any more children, Jesse and Ashley want to continue working with and advocating for foster children. “Through our experience, we are so sure that no child is broken and they don’t need us to fix them,” said Ashley. “They just need love.”
Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa Police Department congratulated the family on their Facebook page. “Ofc. Whitten, the proud father of three girls already, opened his heart and his home to this baby. And now it’s official!”, they wrote. But would the birthwoman remain out of the picture?