One day in the summer of 2017, Ashley Whitten hopped into her police officer husband Jesse’s car for a ride in Santa Rosa, California. On their drive, they came across a pregnant homeless woman, who Jesse often encountered while on duty. She then reached out for Ashley’s hand and placed it on her growing belly. Little did the officer’s wife know that the baby she’d just felt in the womb would end up being her adoptive daughter.
Father-of-three Jesse’s patrol through Santa Rosa often took him near the Coddingtown Mall, a shopping center that has served the area since 1962. There, he regularly saw a homeless person who caught his attention for a specific reason.
“It’s not every day you see someone who’s homeless and pregnant,” Jesse told TV station KTVU. The woman, in her 30s, also struggled with drug addiction. She sometimes reached out to the officer to see if he could help her.
Jesse’s wife Ashley told KTVU, “She asked if there was something the police [could] do for her.” So, Jesse would do his part, driving her to shelters where she could rest safely, or to detox centers to help her fight against addiction.
Cop Jesse also talked the woman into visiting the hospital for a prenatal check-up, a vital step to ensure the health of a growing baby. After the scan, she gifted Jesse the ultrasound image. The woman was having a girl, she cheerfully told him.
In spite of all her excitement about her daughter-to-be, though, the woman’s drug problem continued to linger. “She could not overcome the addiction aspect. She made a lot of attempts, but it’s a really hard thing,” Ashley told KTVU.
Indeed, Jesse’s wife Ashley soon got the chance to meet the pregnant homeless woman herself. On a summer day in 2017, she joined her husband for his night-time patrol, when they came across her, as Jesse so often did.
Ashley recalled their interaction with KTVU. “She was obviously pregnant, and I mentioned that, and she said, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and put my hand on her belly,” the police officer’s wife said. And that moment was special for a very big reason.
“I got to feel our daughter – who I didn’t know would be our daughter – in the womb,” Ashley continued to the TV station. But the couple had no idea they would become the baby’s parents at the time. That is, until Valentine’s Day 2018, when they received an unexpected phone call.
“Someone from the county called and said, ‘Hi, do you know know a woman named so and so?’” Ashley told KTVU. The woman in question was the homeless mom-to-be, and the news of the birth coincided with the international day of love.
Authorities were calling Ashley and Jesse because the new mom had requested that they step in as parents for her newborn daughter. The news came as a huge surprise. The police officer and his wife had never seriously discussed the issue with woman beforehand.
Jesse told KTVU that “she had mentioned it briefly.” But, he added, “I didn’t know if she meant it or how serious she was about [it].” Nevertheless, after delivering her daughter, it became clear that the woman was very much intent on placing her in the care of the couple.
So, the couple asked their pastor to watch their three daughters – Reese, Kendall, and Stella – as they headed to the hospital. But, along the way, they stopped to speak to the baby’s mother and find out more.
“We wondered, ‘Are you asking us to keep her forever?’” Jesse recalled of their conversation with KTVU. The homeless woman was clear. “I want you to have her forever,” she had steadfastly responded.
And she had good reason for choosing Jesse and Ashley to watch over her daughter, too. “She said she wants her to grow up in a home that’s loving and kind, and she had met both of us,” Jesse told the TV station.
So, Ashley and Jesse made their way to the hospital, where they met the newborn baby girl for the first time. They later took her home as foster parents, and patiently began the wait for the formal adoption process to complete.
In August 2018 the entire family – including Jesse and Ashley’s three biological daughters and now six-month-old Harlow Maisey – stood before a Sonoma County judge. When asked if they wanted another sister, the trio of young girls confidently responded, “Yes.”
Their excitement came as no surprise, considering how easily Harlow had managed to fit into the family household. Ashley could only laud the baby’s mom for placing her into their lives. “She loved her daughter enough to give her a family, and we were so honored to be that family,” she told KTVU.
To that end, the couple thought it was important to encourage others who may be considering caring for a foster or adopted child. “We didn’t do anything special, we’re not that unique. The foster care system needs people to show up and when she called us, we showed up,” Ashley told the TV channel.
Jesse echoed Ashley’s sentiment. “This is something anybody can do and my hope is people might see this and realize they can do this, too,” he said to KTVU. For their part, the couple not only brought home a daughter, but they also vowed to start celebrating Valentine’s Day as “the day Harlow came.”