Santa Rosa police officer adopts baby from homeless woman

A North Bay family is celebrating the adoption of a baby girl.    

It's notable because the adoptive dad is a police officer and the birth mom is a homeless woman he befriended while on patrol.

"We developed sort of a friendship in a strange sort of way," Santa Rosa Police Officer Jesse Whitten told KTVU on Friday. "Whenever I saw her on patrol and dealt with her, we'd have a conversation." 

On Thursday, a Sonoma County judge made it official, approving the adoption of Harlow Maisey Whitten, now 6 months old. 

Whitten and his wife Ashley, friends and colleagues, all applauded. The couple already has three daughters: Reese, 7, Kendall, 5, and Stella, age 3.

The girls answered with an emphatic "yes" when the judge asked them if they wanted Harlow as their sister. 

As natural as Harlow's adoption seems, it was initially a surprise. 

"Someone from the county called and said 'Hi, do you know a woman named so and so?'" recounted Ashley Whitten. 

That call came unexpectedly on Valentine's Day, while the family was at a party. 

Harlow's mother had given birth and she was requesting, through authorities, that the couple take her baby.

It wasn't an arrangement they had previously discussed.   

"She had mentioned it briefly, but I didn't know if she meant it or how serious she was about that," recalled Jesse Whitten. 

That February night, the couple left their daughters with their pastor and drove to the hospital to meet the newborn, stopping first to ask the birth mother what her intentions were.

"We wondered, 'are you asking us to keep her forever?' ", said Jesse, "and she was saying 'I want you to have her forever.'"

At four days old, Harlow went home with them, as foster parents for six months, pending adoption. 

The birth mother never wavered about her decision. 

"She said she wants her to grow up in a home that's loving and kind, and she had met both of us," Jesse Whitten said.

The woman, in her late 30s, is homeless and drug-addicted, the Whittens said. 

Whitten would sometimes spot her on patrol near Coddingtown Mall, in northwest Santa Rosa. 

"It's not every day you see someone who's homeless and pregnant," he said. 

"And she asked for help," noted Ashley Whitten, "she asked if there was something the police can do for her."  

On occasion, Whitten drove the expectant mother to shelter or detox. 

"She made a lot of attempts but it's a really hard thing," Ashley Whitten said, adding that she met the woman herself one night on a ride-along with her husband.  

"She was obviously pregnant and I mentioned that, and she said 'oh yeah' and put my hand on her belly," recounted Ashley Whitten. "Wo I got to feel our daughter- who I didn't know would be our daughter- in the womb."

There had been hints.

After Jesse Whitten convinced the woman to get a prenatal checkup at the hospital, she gave him the ultrasound image, happy she was having a girl. 

"But she could not overcome the addiction aspect," said Ashley Whitten, "and she loved her daughter enough to give her a family, and we were so honored to be that family." 

Early on, Harlow overcame challenges from her drug exposure, but she's fine now. 

Enthralled with her big sisters, she is a happy, easy-going baby who has fit seamlessly into the Whitten household. 

"We didn't do anything that special, we're not unique," insisted Ashley Whitten, urging other families to consider foster-parenting and adoption. "The foster care system needs people to show up and when she called us, we showed up." 

From now on, Valentine's Day for the Whittens will be the day Harlow came, a day to celebrate human connections and kindness.   

"This is something anybody can do," said Jesse Whitten, "and my hope is people might see this and realize they can do this too."