Law-enforcement officers go to court all the time. Typically they don’t beam as if in a state of grace throughout the proceedings and leave the courtroom cradling a new reason to feel thankful to be alive.
Santa Rosa Police Officer Jesse Whitten and his wife, Ashley, days ago appeared before Sonoma County Judge Ken Gnoss as the parents of three beautiful daughters.
Upon concluding a brief matter with Gnoss and heading for the door, they’d become the parents of a fourth.
The formalizing of an adoption agreement made the Whittens the lawful parents of a 6-month-old girl whose birth mother lives on the streets of Santa Rosa with her partner and with addiction.
Officer Whitten encounters her from time to time while on patrol.
“I tried to get her into rehab,” said the youthful, 10-year policeman. But the woman, who’s in her 30s, hasn’t shaken her addiction to drugs.
She and Whitten established a rapport. The officer would sometimes drive the woman to a shelter or detox center.
One night late last year, Ashley Whitten rode along with her husband on patrol and they came upon the woman. It was clear to Ashley that she was pregnant.
The two of them spoke and the woman invited Ashley to place a hand on her belly and feel the life inside.
After that, Officer Whitten’s concern for the woman included encouraging her to avail herself of prenatal care.
One night the cop and the woman ran into each other again on the street and she said she wanted to show him something. It was the ultrasound photograph of a baby girl.
ON VALENTINE’S DAY, the Whittens were at a party when the policeman’s cellphone rang. It was a county social worker, phoning from the labor and delivery department at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center.
The homeless woman had given birth to a five-week premature, 5-pound 7-ounce girl. And she’d asked that someone call Officer Whitten and ask if he and his wife would take the child.
The couple let the shock sink in, then they arranged for someone to be with their three daughters — 7-year-old Reese, Kendall, who’s 5 and Stella, 3 — and they headed for Kaiser.
At the woman’s bedside, Jesse Whitten asked her what exactly she wanted. For him and Ashley to care for the baby for a while, or to take her into their family for good?
Whitten recalls, “She said, ‘I want what’s best for her. I can’t give her all the things I want her to have.’” And she asked Jesse and Ashley to become the baby’s forever parents.
TWO DAYS LATER, the Whittens took home the infant whose mother had named her Maisey. She instantly won over Reese, Kendall and Stella.
Their father said the new arrival endured a period of detoxification, and she came through it well.
After becoming certain that it was what the birth mother wanted, Jesse and Ashley initiated adoption proceedings. The big day, the day that a judge would look the couple in the eyes and ask if they were prepared to take on a child as if she were their own flesh and blood, came last Thursday afternoon in Sonoma County courtroom No. 5.
IN THE ENTOURAGE welcomed by Judge Gnoss was a couple that is acting as foster parents to, and is working to adopt, two boys ages 8 and 14.
Those brothers, the Whittens discovered amid this journey, also were born to the homeless woman and her partner and were placed in foster care. Several moments, such as when the younger boy greeted Kendall Whitten with a hug, made it clear to anyone in the courtroom that the two young families are linked by a special bond.
“What a great day today is,” Gnoss told the gathering.
Jesse and Ashley and Reese, Kendall and Stella took seats at a counsel’s table opposite the judge.
Dressed in his uniform, the policeman held the 6-month-old on his lap. She wore a pink dress and black bowed headband.
Gnoss and the adults established that the adoption agreement should be signed and enacted. Then Jesse Whitten addressed his and Ashley’s three daughters regarding the baby.
“Do you guys want her to be part of the family?”
Proclaimed the 5-year-old Kendall, “100 percent yes!”
Her mom, Ashley, blinked through tears as the judge introduced Harlow Maisey as the newest of the Whittens.
You can contact columnist Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.