Born in Sudan and raised in Kenya, Susan Loriho's life went unnoticed inside the African orphanage she called home.
That is until a German nun with connections in the U.S. contacted a Jewish group that assists orphaned children emigrate from Africa.
The Jewish community in America helped Loriho relocate to Colorado six years ago, and before long her English skills improved sufficiently to enroll at Boulder High School.
Despite successes in learning a new language and acclimating to an unfamiliar culture, Loriho unfortunately dropped out of school and drifted around northern Colorado with no purpose or permanent home until her unplanned pregnancy in the fall of 2011.
“I wasn't ready to have a baby,” said Loriho, homeless and single at the time.
Neither was her boyfriend excited at the prospect of becoming a father. He told Loriho to end the pregnancy, and then he ended their relationship.
“I was thinking, if he's not going to be there for me and the baby, what other options do I have,” said Loriho, who doesn't know her age but thinks she's 27. “I didn't know what to do,” she said.
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 options, 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, and the third a self-sufficiency program for pregnant at-risk and homeless women in Boulder.
“They all said, 'We're going to help you get through this and have a baby,' " recalls Loriho, who is celebrating her son Spencer's seventh month this weekend by getting studio portraits with him. Spencer was born on Father's Day, June 17, 2012.
This weekend also marks the 30th anniversary of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (SOHLS), established in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan.
SOHLS is observed Jan. 20 this year, the Sunday closest to the landmark Supreme Court decisions Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which legalized abortion on demand in 1973.
The day gives caring pregnancy centers like Real Choices in Lafayette – which proved to be an invaluable help to Loriho in her decision to give birth to Spencer – opportunities to spread the word in communities and among faith-based groups about alternatives for women confronted with unplanned roles as parents and single mothers.
In addition to Real Choices, Loriho is also grateful for a faith-based outreach in Boulder that offered her and Spencer a cozy, safe alternative to living in a car, a coed homeless shelter, the streets, or in a tumultuous place where neither mother nor baby were secure. Those environments are rare, but not uncommon for some women.
Providing mothers and babies a nurturing place to bond during pregnancy and after birth is a special part of the mission of Mother House, which has welcomed needy women into its five-bedroom Boulder home for more than 30 years, according to Executive Director Ann McConnell
Situated in a downtown neighborhood near the University of Colorado, Mother House is celebrating its 31st year of opening doors and opportunities to pregnant women like Loriho who, during her stay, 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 said.
Since 1982, 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 leave after three.
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.
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.
Referrals from caring pregnancy centers like Life Choices in Longmont, which counsels women who weren't planning on having a baby, aren't uncommon. The key is that the women at Mother House have exercised their choice, opting for the life of their unborn child.
The expecting mothers are, however, required to abstain from drugs and alcohol and participate in parental counseling programs during their pregnancies and after birth, said McConnell, a mother of two grown children, a 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 who “have been kicked to the curb time and again” leave little to be managed as they move toward self-sufficiency.
“They're doing all the leg work,” said McMahon, who shares the home with up to seven women and their babies at a time.
“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 said.
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.
Churches like Boulder Valley Christian and others, as well as mentor volunteers in Mother House's Big SIS (Simply Incredible Support) program help keep the non-profit alive and relevant for pregnant women in need. Participation in the mentoring program is welcomed, as are financial and prayer support for Mother House, online at motherhouse.org.