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Mother House: A sacred home for pregnant women and their babies

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Born in Sudan and raised in Kenya, Susan Nakure‘s life went unnoticed inside an African refugee camp and orphanage after she was separated from her family during the Sudanese government’s massacre of tribal groups.

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That is until a German nun at a Catholic orphanage in Africa - with connections in the United States - contacted a Jewish group that at the time assisted Sudan’s “Lost Girls and Boys” immigrate to America. The 80 or so Lost Girls and thousands of Lost Boys assisted by the nun refer to her today as “The Good Samaritan.”

Har HaShem, a Boulder, Colo.-based Jewish congregation, helped Nakure emigrate from Africa in July 2006. Acclimating to U.S. culture, Nakure changed her surname to Loriho, and improved her English-speaking skills enough to enroll in a local high school.

Despite successes in learning a second language and adjusting to life in America, Loriho unfortunately dropped out of Boulder High School and drifted around Colorado with no purpose or home until her unplanned pregnancy in the fall of 2011.

“I wasn't ready to have a baby,” says Loriho, who was homeless, single and pregnant at the time.

Neither was her boyfriend excited at the prospect of becoming a father. He told Loriho to end the pregnancy; then their relationship ended.

“I was thinking, if he's not going to be there for me and the baby, what other options do I have,” says Loriho, who thinks she's about 27. “I didn't know what to do.”

Despite her faith in God and strong Christian beliefs, Loriho accepted money from her boyfriend to terminate the pregnancy.

Frustrated and scared, she made an appointment with a clinic, praying to God for help and guidance.

Just before her scheduled visit with a clinic nurse, a friend connected Loriho to people who proved to be as valuable as the Catholic nun and the Jewish group in getting the former orphan out of Africa.

Buoyed by what appeared to be new options for the baby and herself, Loriho phoned the clinic, telling the nurse, “I'm not going to come for my appointment.”

One of the connections was a Catholic priest in Denver, another a caring pregnancy center in Lafayette, Colo., and the third a self-sufficiency program for pregnant at-risk and homeless women in Boulder.

A family with ties to Real Choices pregnancy center in Lafayette, Colo. offered Loriho her first family experience since leaving the Sudan, and a safe place for the baby growing inside her womb. A Christian-based nonprofit, Real Choices counsels and supports pregnant women who chose to keep their babies.

“They all said, 'We're going to help you get through this and have a baby,' " recalls Loriho, whose son Spencer was born on Father's Day, June 17, 2012.

This year, the 31st anniversary of the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (SOHLS) is January 19, 2014. The day was established in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan, and is observed on the date closest to the landmark Supreme Court decisions Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which effectively legalized abortion on January 22, 1973.

SOHLS gives caring pregnancy center staff and volunteers opportunities to spread the word in communities and among faith-based groups about alternatives for women and men who are confronted with unplanned roles as parents, and women about to become single mothers.

In addition to Real Choices and the Oredson family home, where she lived early in her pregnancy, Loriho is also grateful for Mother House, a church-supported outreach in Boulder that offered her a cozy safe home before and after Spencer was born.

For many pregnant homeless women, Mother House is the only alternative to living in a car, a coed homeless shelter, the streets, or in a tumultuous place where neither mother nor baby are secure, according to Ann McConnell, executive director at Mother House. Those environments are rare, but not uncommon for some women, she says.

Providing mothers and babies a nurturing place to bond during pregnancy and after birth is a special part Mother House‘s faith-based mission, which has welcomed needy women into its five-bedroom Boulder home for more than 30 years..

Situated in a downtown neighborhood near the University of Colorado, Mother House is celebrating its 32nd year of opening doors and opportunities to pregnant women like Loriho who, during her stay at the home, earned a GED, enrolled in college, and lined up permanent housing for herself and Spencer.

“While considered a homeless shelter, Mother House offers more of a program designed to help women prepare for their new roles as moms, should they decide to keep their babies after birth,” McConnell says.

Since 1982, more than 516 women have come to Mother House at various stages during their pregnancies and have stayed for as long as four months after their babies were born, though most mothers move into their own homes after 12 weeks.

While Mother House is Christian in principle and supported by churches, its resident mothers don't have to ascribe to any faith to stay, nor are they required to keep their babies after birth; some opt to give up their children to adoptive parents before moving out.

A Christian-based prayer group is part Mother House's ongoing programs; though participation is optional, nobody refuses to participate, McConnell says.

Divisive societal and political viewpoints about a woman's right to chose aren't part of the rhetoric at Mother House because its residents have already chosen life for their babies before they arrive, McConnell says.

With financial and hands-on support from churches and volunteers in and surrounding Boulder, Mother House was renovated in 2013, improving its already cheery and family-like atmosphere.

Referrals to Mother House come from other caring pregnancy centers like Life Choices in nearby Longmont, Colo. The common thread among women at Mother House is that they’ve exercised their choice, opting for the life of their unborn child, counselors say.

The expecting mothers are, however, required to abstain from drugs and alcohol and participate in parental counseling programs during their pregnancies and after birth, says McConnell, a mother of two grown children, former business owner, and law firm employee who was offered a full-time position at Mother House in 1997 after serving as a volunteer.

The day-to-day affairs at Mother House are the responsibility of House Manager Tess McMahon who likes her title and work, but insists that the maturity levels of the young women produce only a handful of management problems.

“These women have been kicked to the curb time and again when they arrive at Mother House,” says McMahon, who shares the home with up to seven women and their babies at a time. “They're doing all the leg work,” she says.

“My job is to be a support as these women navigate the hard stuff,” including overcoming domestic abuse and learning new communications and social skills, she says.

Unlike most women at Mother House, Loriho had an added challenge while preparing for her new role as a single parent: Acquiring U.S. citizenship.

She achieved that goal on Jan. 7, 2013, a little more than a month after Loriho moved out of Mother House and into her new home, also in Boulder.

Pursuing a college degree, Loriho was awarded a partial scholarship in 2013 for her contributions to the community as a multi-cultural person of color in Boulder. She hopes to one day work as a print or photojournalist.

Churches like Boulder Valley Christian and their volunteers help keep the non-profit alive and relevant for pregnant women in need. Participation in a mentoring program, Big SIS (Simply Incredible Support), is welcomed as are financial and prayer support for Mother House, online at motherhouse.org.

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