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After I gave birth to my son Jay, one of the most unexpected and biggest struggles I faced was breastfeeding. In my experience, no one talks about how hard breastfeeding can be. My OB-GYN recommended I talk to the pediatrician. The pediatrician referred me to a lactation consultant. The lactation consultant wasn’t very kind or patient with me. Without a community or support system, I was left to Googling in the early morning hours. I felt guilty and ashamed for not providing my baby with what he needed. Ultimately, I felt alone and isolated.
“This is one of the reasons why we started Expectful,” Nathalie Walton, CEO and co-founder of Expectful, told me when I relayed my struggles with breastfeeding. “A number of things can happen during and after your pregnancy. Some things you never anticipate happening, happen. We see the tremendous impact that mental health has on the journey to motherhood.”
Walton’s journey to motherhood was not without its ups and downs. “I was the target of gaslighting by my doctor my entire pregnancy,” says Walton, who is now the proud mom to son Everett. “It was clear they didn’t take my concerns seriously, and I ended up having a high-risk pregnancy. I kept receiving conflicting information and asked for additional tests to be run. My doctor said she’d prescribe an ultrasound. When I actually went to schedule the ultrasound, she said she had made up the prescription to appease me. It was infuriating the treatment I received as a Black woman. I still have post-traumatic stress from that experience.”
Research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that about 7% of women experience depression during pregnancy. Some signs and symptoms include excessive anxiety about your baby, not adhering to prenatal care, inability to find joy in activities you used to enjoy and thoughts of harming yourself. And according to the CDC, about one in eight women who have gone through a live birth experience symptoms of postpartum depression, including withdrawing from loved ones, feeling guilty about not being a good parent and worrying that they will hurt their baby.
Walton’s knowledge of these statistics and her own experience with a traumatic pregnancy led her to found Expectful, which is a mental health app for before, during and after pregnancy. The platform offers affordable and accessible maternal wellness support for moms and moms-to-be. “Suffering shouldn’t be a rite of passage, and you shouldn’t have to hunt for hours to find a qualified — and likable — specialist,” Walton says.
The app includes evidence-based research, live Q&As with experts and on-demand courses, among other content.
Here are three lessons Walton learned on the path to building Expectful.
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Stop glamourizing entrepreneurship
Walton spent up to 30 hours a week honing her equestrian skills while she was growing up. And although it might sound glamorous, Walton recalls it being a lesson in humility. “It wasn’t running and jumping on a horse like you might envision,” she says. “Most of my early summers were being up at 4 a.m., collecting horse shit and pushing wheelbarrows of hay.”
Her early days of being an equestrian prepared Walton for her founder journey. “You are doing all the tasks, dealing with customer complaints, scrambling on product issues and writing social posts,” she says. “You don’t always see the number of hours that go into being a successful founder versus how much we glamorize the life of an entrepreneur. You don’t see the panic, the downs and how it can impact your mental health. We need more founders publicly sharing the true narrative around their success.”
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Be your own talent scout
“Coming from [working for] Google, I took for granted how much resourcing we had access to when it came to hiring talent,” Walton says. “I had no idea the mistakes I would make as a founder when hiring and how costly they could be. That has certainly been a humbling experience.”
Walton recalls an experience when she hired too quickly for a marketing role. “Marketing is going through a tectonic shift, and unfortunately they didn’t have the right expertise when it comes to growth marketing and also didn’t understand our business model.”
Walton’s advice to founders is to be their own talent scout. Now she focuses on meeting talent wherever and whenever she can, from conferences to virtual coffees with people she meets on LinkedIn. “Keep in touch with people, and think of how they might be able to help you and your company in the future.”
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Stop living in a bubble
“When fundraising for Expectful, I was surprised by how many men don’t understand women’s struggles in trying to conceive, pregnancy, and new motherhood,” Walton says.
Expectful’s pitch deck opened with the problem it was going to solve: The current U.S. healthcare system fails to support women during pregnancy and postpartum. “It was alarming how many men, even those who were fathers, could not get past the first slide because they questioned the legitimacy of the problem Expectful is solving,” Walton says.
The experience taught her that too many investors, and even founders, are living in a bubble. They need to learn to empathize with experiences that aren’t their own. However, the bias Walton faced from some investors didn’t stop her from closing a $4.2 million round of seed funding in 30 days.
Now, she’s focused on her next big opportunity: making Expectful accessible to the Medicaid population — according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 42% of births were financed by Medicaid in 2020. “People on Medicaid can’t currently afford this solution, which is also a misconception some of our investors have,” Walton says. “Expectful can help so many more women with prenatal stress.”
Expectful currently partners with Johnson’s Baby on an initiative to improve Black maternal health outcomes by offering complimentary memberships to women who can’t afford them.
“As a Black woman in technology, I have been used to being underestimated and undervalued,” Walton says. “I want more women of color to see founders like me thriving because entrepreneurship can be so incredibly rewarding.”
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