THIKA, KENYA - Fifty-seven-year-old Kenyan Joyce Kago’s three marriages ended when she couldn't have children, leaving her alone and struggling to make ends meet. Joyce is one of many childless women in a society where having children is key for acceptance.
Joyce Kago cooks as if it were for her family - but it’s for a rehabilitation center in Thika, Kenya, northeast of Nairobi.
Kago was married three times but the marriages fell apart because she was unable to have children.
Her last marriage ended four years ago when her husband became abusive.
“When I was in marriage for four years. My husband started to drink. When he comes home, he beats me. He tells me ‘What are you doing here? There is nothing that I am benefiting from you,’” she said.
As elsewhere in the world, the societal shame of being childless in Kenya is directed most heavily toward women -but not wholly.
"In our society usually, parents are identified with the children they have born. You are called Mama so and so. So, Mama, and the name of the child that you have born. Or you are Baba so and so. Baba meaning the father and the child that you have born. So, if you don't have a child, then you are ostracized,” he said.
Adding to the shame, Kenya’s Obstetrical and Gynecological Society says one of the biggest causes of infertility, among five million adults, is sexually transmitted infections.
To help childless Kenyans like herself to cope, and learn skills to make a living, Editah Hadassa, in 2017 started the Waiting Wombs Trust.
"The first thing we strive to do is to just create a space where you are free to vent, talk about it. We listen without judging. We allow you to cry if you want to. We say it's a place where we offer free hugs," she said.
The group has grown from 100 women five years ago to over 10,000.
For women like Kago, Waiting Wombs Trust is truly like the family they never had.