Chris Smith: Reconnecting with homeless woman who gave her baby to a Santa Rosa policeman

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It turns out I know the woman who got pregnant while living on the streets and feeding her addiction, and who gave up her newborn daughter for adoption by a Santa Rosa police officer she trusted and his wife.

Some years back, the woman and I spoke often and I visited her family’s home. Though getting by was tough for her and her partner and two sons, I wrote several times about exceptional goings-on in the life of one of the boys.

A week ago, she read my story about Officer Jesse Whitten of the Santa Rosa Police Department and his wife, Ashley, adopting a baby girl born to and surrendered to them by an unnamed homeless woman. She reached out to me to say she is that woman.

I didn’t recognize her when we met at a downtown cafe. She was dressed well and groomed, but since I last saw her she lost a great deal of weight and some of her teeth.


WE SPOKE for more than hour. I perceived in her some of the qualities that were evident years ago when she had a family and an inviting rented home: her kindness and motherly pride, and a desire to do what’s right.

But it was clear — and she didn’t try to deny or blame away or excuse — that her life has sunk deeply into the mire.

“I will hate myself for the rest of my life,” she said early on. She seems to regret foremost that she descended into so deplorable a state that her boys were removed from her custody.

“They both saw a lot things they shouldn’t have,” she said.

She recalled people she has camped alongside have asked why she goes to sleep and begins sobbing. “It’s because,” she said, “every time I fall to sleep I see my boys.”

“All I ever wanted in life was to be a mom,” she said.

She loves her sons, “more than anything,” she said. But she knows she deserved for them to be taken from her and that they are better off in the care of others.

“I never meant to hurt them,” she said. She anguishes to know that she did.

There’s a particular candy she likes, but when there’s money in her purse from her $837 monthly Social Security disability benefit, she won’t allow herself to buy it.

“I don’t deserve to have those things,” she said.

As bad as it sounded, she said plainly that for the longest time prior to her delivery of a girl this past February, she didn’t even know she was pregnant.

I’m not publishing her name, not for her privacy but for that of the children to whom she gave birth. How about we call her Kay?


SHE’S OUT OF PLACE on the streets, Kay said, but that is where she is.

She said to maintain a measure of dignity and responsibility by keeping herself as presentable as possible, cleaning up after herself and others, treating others with respect and trying to help fellow people living on the streets.

She said, “I’m sort of like Wendy and they’re the Lost Boys.”

Though she doesn’t “embrace homeless lifestyle,” she acknowledges she is lost in the life.

Kay said she’s addicted to methamphetamine, the potent stimulant that brought about her extensive tooth decay, and she also uses heroin.

She said she took drugs before she became a mother, then she got herself free. “I was clean and sober for 12 years,” she said.

She told of returning to meth for relief of longstanding physical and emotional ailments, among them lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress from an abusive childhood with addicted parents.

“It gives me a sense of happiness for a moment,” she said. “When I don’t do it for a couple of days, I literally want to kill myself.”

Kay and her partner, who’s also an addict and currently is in jail, were living on the streets with their boys when she did something reckless and desperate.

“I just went into Target and tried to steal a lot of things,” she said. She was caught, arrested, convicted of felony grand theft and jailed for a year.

Authorities seized her and her partner’s sons and made them wards of the state available for foster care and then adoption.

“They were taken on my birthday,” Kay said.


HAVING LOST THEM to her poor judgment and addiction and self-loathing, she said, “I kind of went crazy.”

Once she was released from jail, she returned to the streets of Santa Rosa and consumed drugs with a vengeance.

“It was like I was a teen-ager,” she admitted. “I was a menace.

“I’ve overdosed probably 300 times.”

Kay said she has been in treatment, has run from treatment and has felt some of the medical professionals who might have helped her instead set her up to fail.


ABOUT THE BABY: Kay said last year she was briefly intimate with a man she’d come to connect with. It looked to pain her to say that for months she had no idea that she was pregnant.

When you’re riding the cycle of having and not having drugs, and feeling miserably and less miserably sick, “There’s no time to actually check in with your body,” she said.

She’d overdosed again, shocked her liver and was at a hospital and undergoing an ultrasound when the technician discovered a fetus.

Kay said through most of the pregnancy, she did give up the drugs and go onto methadone maintenance. Still, she lives with knowing she didn’t give the child a great start.


BUT EARLY ON, after discovering she was pregnant, she said, she knew she would ask Officer Whitten and his wife to take the baby.

The policeman had met her on the streets a number of times and tried to help her, get her into rehab.

Kay said, “For me to be friends with a police officer with my life the way it is right now, doesn’t really coincide.”

She counts as the best things that have happened to her the needle-exchange program, and Officer Whitten. She remembers him telling her that as an officer he has to sometimes confront and arrest people, but he wants most to help them.

“He really does help me,” she said.

She recalled that early this past February, “I went into labor on the side of the road by myself.”


A FRIEND DIALED 911. She gave birth to a 5-pound 7-ounce girl at Kaiser Santa Rosa Medical Center on Feb. 9.

Kay asked a Sonoma County social worker to phone Whitten and ask him to come take the baby. The officer and his wife went to the hospital, spoke to Kay and agreed to become the newborn’s parents.

Kay was aware that she spoke a great deal about how she loves her sons and hates herself for losing them, and not so much about the girl she named Maisey and who’s now seven months and officially a member of the Whitten family.

She said it’s not that she doesn’t care about the girl, but they didn’t have the years together that she and the boys did.

“It’s why I don’t worry about Maisey,” she said. “She never knew me that way.”


ON THE STREETS, “I have done a lot of growing up,” Kay said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself.”

Even so, she makes no bones of the fact that right now she is firmly stuck in her addiction, her homelessness and her condition.

“Honestly, I think I need a lot of counseling,” she said. “I need a place to live, to rest. Someone to hold my hand and make decisions for me a little bit ... because I’m not making good ones.”

Having wept on and off through our talk, most forcefully when speaking of the boys she lost, she was clear-eyed as she summed it all up. Pardon our French.

“I’m really a good person,” she said, “but I really sh-- the bed on this life thing.”

You can reach columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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