Monday, August 10, 2009

A Beautiful Love Story

Story Updated: Aug 8, 2009 at 8:39 AM PDT
By BARB OWENS, Daily Record
ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) - A lot can happen in a year and a half. Just ask 23-year-old Jessica Hanna, nee Marchel. She went from being a model and doing hair in New York to raising a family in Ellensburg in an instant.

Jessica began modeling when she was 14. She's landed jobs in Japan, California, Canada and New York. When she was 21 and between agencies, she decided to come home to Ellensburg and visit for a while.

While home, Jessica got a phone call from a woman who she grew up with. The woman said she had a baby and she wanted Jessica to come look at him.

"I came and looked at him and he was in a total meth house," Jessica said.

State Child Protective Services removed baby Nick from the home and the care of his mother. At 9 months old, Nick was placed in Jessica's care. That was May 2007.

Jessica was able to foster-adopt Nick because she was his fictive kin, meaning she was the most involved person in his life, despite not being related by birth or marriage. It's also referred to as psychological family.

Twenty-one years old and caring for a 9-month-old baby, Jessica realized she wasn't going back to New York. She decided she should get reacquainted with the community and meet new friends.

Jessica attended Salt, a college ministry group at the Mercer Creek Church, and noticed Tom Hanna standing in the front row worshipping God.

"I was like, 'I have to meet that guy,"' Jessica remembers. Normally an outgoing person, she tried to introduce herself but found it too difficult. The second week she got the nerve to talk to Tom, but she rambled on incoherently and then blurted out that she had a baby. She retreated thinking all chances to get to know him were lost.

But technology helped make a love connection, and Tom found Jessica on MySpace. After their first date, a long talk atop Craig's Hill, the two returned to their friends and gushed about how they had found their other half.

"We were married 40 days later," Jessica said.

Tom was understanding of Jessica's situation and accepted Nick as his own.

"I wasn't real sure what to think about it at first. But after we started talking, I found out her situation," Tom said. "I admired the fact that she had left everything that she had in New York so that she could take care of this kid."

Their marriage is a story in itself. Jessica was at the Social Security office in Yakima, taking care of some things regarding Nick, when a relative of Nick's birth mother came in and threatened her. They told Jessica they wanted to put her in a body bag and run away with Nick.

Being the determined woman she is, Jessica let the threat roll off her shoulders. But she told the guard what was going on and checked on the daycare where Nick was staying.

"They put the whole church on lockdown," Jessica said. She got a restraining order and the police suggested they get out of town for a few days. That's when they decided on a whim to elope in Reno, Nev., just like Jessica's parents did years ago.

The two were married on Dec. 8, 2007, and Jessica took Tom's last name Hanna.

"My family was excited," Jessica said. "They welcomed us with a bottle of sparkling cider." (Tom was 19 at the time.)

"My mom didn't talk to me for a week," Tom said.

"It took her longer than that to talk to me," Jessica said. But his mother has come around since then.

The happily wedded couple got another surprise three months later when Jessica discovered she was pregnant. Nick was going to have a sister.

Then in July 2008, Jessica got a call asking if she wanted another baby.

"We heard that Nick had a half brother in the foster care system," Jessica said. "We jumped in with Nathan right when he was ready to be adopted - we got really lucky with that."

The Hannas took 6-month-old Nathan home a month later. Being Nick's half brother and Jessica's fictive kin helped speed the process up.

Jessica gave birth to baby Marchel, her maiden name, on Oct. 29, 2008. But the family didn't stop at three kids. Six weeks later, Jessica got another call.

"They call us and they say, 'hey they had another baby, do you guys want it?"' Jessica said. The couple didn't hesitate to say yes. Then came the response: "How quick can you get here? She's hungry."

Jessica was still on maternity leave, so they loaded up the gang and picked up 2-day-old baby Hailey, Nathan's full sister and Nick's half sister.

In January they opened up a Paul Mitchell focus salon called Hanna Marchel. Located in a beautiful old-fashioned house, the salon has an esthetician room, a body waxing room, performs spa facials, and will soon offer permanent makeup. Jessica is a Paul Mitchell educator and a self-proclaimed "hair nerd."

Tom is a reserve sheriff's deputy and studies business at Central Washington University. Ultimately, Tom says he'd like to lead a church.

Right now the couple says they are on a five-year-plan, meaning they don't plan on having more children for at least five years. But what if CPS calls them up tomorrow and says another baby was born?

"Then we'd have another baby," Tom says.

The Hannas say they will adopt more children in the future.

"You know people actually think that I have a screw loose," Jessica said. "Really, they think we both do. We've had the worst comments."

But Tom adds that they get a lot of support, too.

"Tons of good comments," she agrees. But the negative stuff sticks out.

When they get older, Jessica and Tom will tell the children about their adoptions.

"The cool thing about them being adopted is the fact that they're chosen children," Jessica said. "I was meant to be their mom, and Tom was meant to be their dad."

The Hannas have advice for people who are considering adoption.

"Do it," Tom says.

Jessica says she loves all the kids as if they were her own.

"It's such a blessing, and having a biological child and my other children, there's no difference. I feel no different," she said. "It's kind of cool that one looks like me a little bit. But you don't feel any different."

That's not to make the experience sound easy. It takes money, time and there are emotional risks involved.

"Being a foster parent is something special. Your heart has to be really prepared," Jessica said. "These little children's hearts are breaking. Why not let yours break a little for them?"

Tom and Jessica Hanna, of Ellensburg, Wash., relax with their children, from left to right,
Nick, 3, Nathan, 18 months, Marchel, 9 months, and Hailey, 7 months.


Rachel said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing!

Miss Serenity said...

Amazing story! I can't imagine anyone being that selfless at such a young age.

Miss Serenity said...

oops, yet again that was me.