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After I gave birth to my son Jay, one of the most unexpected and biggest problems I faced was breastfeeding. In my experience, no one talks about how difficult breastfeeding can be. My OB-GYN advised me to talk to the pediatrician. The pediatrician referred me to a lactation consultant. The lactation consultant was not very nice or patient with me. With no community or support system, I was left to Google in the early morning hours. I felt guilty and ashamed for not giving my baby what he needed. In the end I felt alone and isolated.
“This is one of the reasons we started Expectful,” said Nathalie Walton, CEO and co-founder of expectanttold me when I was struggling with to breastfeed. “A number of things can happen during and after your pregnancy. Some things you never expect happen. We see the huge impact that mental health has on the journey to motherhood.”
Walton’s journey to motherhood was not without its ups and downs. “My entire pregnancy, I was gaslighted by my doctor,” said Walton, who is now the proud mother of son Everett. “It was clear they weren’t taking my concerns seriously and I ended up having a high-risk pregnancy. I kept getting conflicting information and asking for additional tests. My doctor said she would prescribe an ultrasound. When I actually went to schedule the ultrasound, “She said she came up with the recipe to soothe me. It was infuriating the treatment I received as a black woman. I still have post-traumatic stress from that experience.”
Research of the Mayo Clinic suggests that about 7% of women experience depression during pregnancy. Some signs and symptoms include excessive fear of your baby, failure to adhere to prenatal care, inability to enjoy activities you used to enjoy, and thoughts of harming yourself. And According to the CDC, about one in eight women who have experienced a live birth experience symptoms of postpartum depression, including withdrawing from loved ones, feeling guilty for not being a good parent, and worrying they will hurt their baby.
Walton’s knowledge of these stats and her own experience with a traumatic pregnancy led her to create Expectful, a pre-, during, and post-pregnancy mental health app. The platform provides affordable and accessible maternal wellness support for mothers and mothers-to-be. “Suffering shouldn’t be a rite of passage, and you shouldn’t have to spend hours looking for a qualified — and sympathetic — specialist,” Walton says.
The app includes evidence-based research, live Q&As with experts, and on-demand courses.
Here are three lessons Walton learned on the road to building Expectful.
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Stop glorifying entrepreneurship
Walton spent up to 30 hours a week improving her equestrian skills as she grew up. And while it may sound glamorous, Walton remembers it was a lesson in humility. “It wasn’t running and jumping on a horse like you might imagine,” she says. “Most of my early summers were getting up at 4 a.m., collecting horse poop, and pushing wheelbarrows of hay.”
Her early days as a rider prepared Walton for her founding journey. “You do all the tasks, handle customer complaints, scramble about product issues, and write social posts,” she says. “You don’t always see the number of hours it takes to be a successful founder versus how much we glorify the life of an australiabusinessblog.com. You don’t see the panics, the downs and how it can affect your mental health. We need more founders who publicly share the true story of their success.”
Related: This baker was told not to speak Spanish with co-workers, so she started her own cake business that values employees as much as customers
Be your own talent scout
“Originating from [working for] Google, I took for granted how much resources we had when it came to hiring talent,” says Walton. “I had no idea what mistakes I would make as a founder when hiring and how expensive they could be. That has certainly been a humbling experience.”
Walton recalls an experience when she was hired too soon 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, nor did they understand our business model.”
Walton’s advice to founders is to be their own talent scout. Now she focuses on meeting talent whenever and wherever she can, from conferences to virtual coffees with people she meets on LinkedIn. “Keep in touch with people and think about how they can help you and your business in the future.”
Related: ‘Bias is a corporate killer,’ says co-founder of largest black wine company in the US
Stop living in a bubble
“When I raised money for Expectful, I was surprised by how many men don’t understand women’s struggles in trying to conceive, pregnancy, and new motherhood,” says Walton.
Expectful’s pitch deck started with the problem it would solve: The current US health care system does not support women during pregnancy and postpartum. “It was alarming how many men, even those who were fathers, couldn’t get past the first slide because they had doubts about the legitimacy of the problem Expectful is solving,” Walton says.
The experience taught her that too many investors, and even founders, live in a bubble. They must learn to empathize with experiences that are not their own. However, the bias Walton faced from some investors didn’t stop her from taking out $4.2 million seed capital within 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 funded by Medicaid in 2020. “People on Medicaid can’t afford this solution right now, which is also a misconception some of our investors have,” Walton says. “Expected to help so many more women with prenatal stress.”
Expectful is currently partnering with Johnson’s Baby on an initiative to improve health outcomes for black mothers by offering free memberships to women who can’t afford them.
“As a black woman in technology, I’ve grown used to being underestimated and undervalued,” Walton says. “I want more women of color to see founders like me thrive because entrepreneurship can be so incredibly rewarding.”
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