Expectful CEO Nathalie Walton on Having a High-risk Pregnancy
Tell us about your journey to motherhood.
My journey to motherhood was an expedition rooted in perseverance.
I sailed through the first trimester of pregnancy. I never got sick; I regularly walked 10,000 steps a day; I even did (modified) Barry’s Bootcamp until my 20th week of pregnancy. I calculated every action to ensure a happy and healthy pregnancy. I thought I would waltz into an easy labor and just pop out a baby without much hassle.
So when my doctor told me at my 20-week ultrasound that my pregnancy was high-risk for preterm labor and that if I wasn’t careful, my baby could be born at any time, I figured she must have made a mistake.
This was day 140 of my pregnancy. I had to make it to day 259 to deliver my baby at term.
I started to live my life in days and then later in hours. Every hour that my baby remained inside got us one hour closer to a safe delivery. Over the next 18 weeks, I would make 52 visits to various doctor’s offices.
My goal was to reach 259 days of pregnancy, so I felt triumphant as I passed 260, 261, 262. I made it. We had made it.
Until we both nearly died during childbirth.
I experienced a challenged placenta, similar to Chrissy Teigan. My issues evolved into a placental abruption. My son Everett and I were fortunate to make it out alive. Ten months later, we are both as happy and healthy as can be, but my experience and recovery exposed me to the reality of just how challenging yet triumphant the road to motherhood can be.
What was your favorite part of pregnancy? Least favorite part?
My favorite part of pregnancy was the ability to digest dairy. There is a little known secret that the ability to digest lactose improves during pregnancy. I’ve struggled with lactose intolerance my entire life, so it was a wonderful delight to realize that I could eat cheese without any repercussions.
My least favorite part of pregnancy was the heartburn. Starting around 30 weeks, I experienced debilitating heartburn that forced me to sleep upright for the remainder of my pregnancy.
I’m thankful that I got to enjoy the cheese before the heartburn kicked in!
The vast majority (72%!) of pregnant and new mothers experience moderate to high anxiety. That is wild! What do you see as the biggest drivers behind this problem?
It was heartbreaking to learn that 72% of pregnant and new mothers struggle with anxiety. I believe two significant drivers create this increased occurrence of anxiety: the inherent nature of change involved in creating a new human life and the healthcare system’s failure to address mothers’ wellbeing.
In the period that begins at conception and ends at a baby’s first birthday, a woman undergoes extreme change. Her body grows, her hormones shift, her sleep fluctuates, and the structure of her family changes. I believe that it is natural to have a bit of anxiety and stress when confronting so many monumental life changes in such a short period.
However, many other countries and cultures implement systems to help mothers through the challenging transition of pregnancy and new motherhood. For example, mothers in the UK can take 52 weeks of maternity leave. Other countries offer generous child care subsidies or have postpartum care baked into cultural norms.
I believe the biggest driver of anxiety for pre and postnatal women is our cultural failure to support mothers during a time of such momentous change.
Is there a larger vision or North Star that keeps you going, even when your motivation is down?
My North Star that guides me through challenges is my desire to help all of the women that suffer but don’t have the means or resources to get help.
This realization came to me through the challenges that I faced with breastfeeding. Like many other NICU moms, I struggled with breastfeeding, yet I was determined to make it work. I hired four lactation consultants; I bought over a dozen galactagogues and every lactation cookie on the market. After my 9th appointment with a lactation consultant, I asked myself this question, “how do families who don’t have an abundance of resources manage?”
The sad answer is that many families struggle to navigate these obstacles. Becoming a parent is a challenge on its own. I’m motivated to create universal solutions that reduce the mental and emotional suffering that many parents-to-be endure.
You recently took the helm of Expectful, the #1 meditation and sleep app for growing families. Tell us about your plans for Expectful, and what makes you most excited.
My motherhood journey exposed me to one of our society’s most underserved needs: mothers’ wellbeing.
Due to my pregnancy’s precarious state, I searched for wellness tools and support outside medicine’s traditional realms. Sadly, most OBGYNs don’t have the means to help pregnant moms’ mental and emotional well-being. I was on my own.
During pregnancy, I discovered a breadth of evidence-based wellness tools: meditation, acupuncture, nutrition, yoga, hypnobirthing, and holotropic breathwork (to name a few). I found a weekly mother’s group that supported me through sleepless nights and never-ending days. These tools, in addition to Expectful, were instrumental in achieving the positive outcome that I did. I’m excited to bring these resources to everyone that would benefit from having a more mindful pregnancy.
How do you think about doing your best work while being a parent? Has that understanding shifted during COVID-19?
If I am allowed only one take-away from this pandemic, it would be realizing how difficult it is to be a working parent in America. To be clear, being a parent, regardless if that person is working as a full-time employee or a full-time parent, is a challenging job. However, the pandemic has exposed us to the reality that those who must juggle childcare while working full time outside the home are set up for failure; this September, women dropped out of the U.S. workforce at four times the rate of men, it’s clear that this burden is largely shouldered by mothers.
To balance work and motherhood during a pandemic, I work late in the evenings and utilize weekend nap times for work. This strategy is not a long-term sustainable solution, but I’m just trying to survive right now like so many other moms. It’s essential to be compassionate to myself and my team of mothers while knowing that everyone is just doing the best that they can do at this moment in time.
What is your favorite Natalist product?
I love Natalist’s Iron supplements. Eight months after my son was born, I found myself still feeling tired and sluggish, even though my baby sleeps 11 hours a night. After a blood test, I saw that I was iron deficient. It’s normal for new mothers to have iron deficiency, and I was grateful to find the Natalist Iron supplement.
Last question: what advice do you have for other aspiring mamas?
My advice to aspiring mamas is to let go of expectations. On the road to becoming a mother, there is so much that is out of your control. The sooner one can embrace the unpredictability that accompanies creating human life; the more strength one will have to conquer the unforeseen circumstances.