On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Nathalie Walton, CEO of the Expectful app, about coping with anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum— especially when you have a high-risk pregnancy.
Nathalie is the CEO of Expectful, the number one meditation and sleep app for growing families. She has spent the last eight years in leadership roles at Airbnb, Google, and eBay. As a new mother to her 10-month old son Everett, Nathalie experienced the failure of the U.S. healthcare system as it pertains to nurturing the mental and emotional well-being of pregnant and new parents. She joined the team at Expectful to provide universal access to evidence-based wellness solutions such as meditation to help millions of people around the world navigate the new stage of parenthood.
**Content Warning: This episode includes a birth story with placental abruption, emergency cesarean, and NICU admission.**
Natalie talks with us about her journey to parenthood, including how she prepared for her “marathon” high-risk pregnancy and birthing experience. We also talk about how she empowered herself to take control of her mental well-being during pregnancy and birth.
Learn more about Nathalie Walton and the Expectful app here (https://expectful.com/). To learn more about Expectful’s Helping Hands scholarship program, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Expectful on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/expectful/) and on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/expectful/).
Learn more about Mairi Rothman, co-founder of the M.A.M.A.S Midwives here (https://mamasmidwives.com).
Learn more about Rachel Carbonneau, doula and Evidence Based Birth® instructor here (https://www.family-ways.com/).
Rebecca Dekker: Hi, everyone. On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Nathalie Walton, CEO of the Expectful app about coping with anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum.
Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker and I’m a nurse with my PhD and the founder of Evidence Based Birth®. Join me each week as we work together to get evidence-based information into the hands of families and professionals around the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice. See ebbirth.com/disclaimer for more details.
Welcome to this episode of the Evidence Based Birth® podcast. Before we get started, I just want to give a brief content warning. Towards the beginning of this podcast, we will be talking about an experience of birth trauma with placental abruption, emergency cesarean, and NICU admission.
And now, I’d like to introduce our honored guest, Nathalie Walton. Nathalie is the CEO of Expectful, the number one meditation and sleep app for growing families. She has spent the last eight years in leadership roles at Airbnb, Google, and eBay. As a new mother to her 10-month old son Everett, Nathalie experienced the failure of the U.S. healthcare system as it pertains to nurturing the mental and emotional well-being of pregnant and new mothers. She joined the team at Expectful to provide universal access to evidence-based wellness solutions such as meditation to help millions of women around the world navigate the new stage of parenthood. Welcome, Nathalie, to the Evidence Based Birth® podcast.
Nathalie Walton: Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here today.
Rebecca Dekker: I love to hear your journey to parenthood, including your pregnancy and birth story. I know you’ve talked about it with other news outlets, but I was wondering if you could share it with our listeners.
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. No, I’m happy to share more. Before I got pregnant, I read this research report and it shared how the physical intensity of pregnancy is like basically running a 40-week marathon. It’s actually a really great study. And what it shows is just how pregnancy is truly the greatest race that a woman might face in her lifetime. And so as I was going into pregnancy, I was prepared for this marathon. I knew it would be a long race to the finish line. And even though I prepared for this long, arduous ride, I didn’t take into account that some pregnancies can be marathons on flat roads, on a cool, crispy day, or others can be like entirely uphill in desert-like conditions. And so my pregnancy, it started on a flat road, on a cool, crisp day, and it was pretty uneventful until my 20-week scan.
And it was at my 20-week where I found out that the rest of my journey would be entirely uphill. Basically, climbing up a steep mountain in the Kalahari Desert. That’s because right around the midpoint in my pregnancy, I was told that I had elevated inhibin and HCG levels, and that I would need to be monitored pretty closely for the rest of my pregnancy.
What was really frustrating and actually how I came to use Evidence Based Birth® was around the fact that none of my doctors could actually tell me what this meant. They just said, “I think you have placental challenges.” And so-
Rebecca Dekker: What was the exact thing that they were telling you that you had?
Nathalie Walton: All that they knew was from a test, that I had elevated inhibin and HCG levels. People that have those levels, higher levels, they’re more inclined to have placental challenges.
Rebecca Dekker: Okay.
Nathalie Walton: And so that’s all I really was told. It was like, “There’s not one thing wrong with you, but just like we have to monitor you because there could be challenges associated with these higher than normal levels.”
Rebecca Dekker: So, all of a sudden, you were kind of considered high risk? A little bit?
Nathalie Walton: All of a sudden. Before this time, I did my yoga five times a week. I walk 10,000 steps a day. I was smooth sailing. But then all of a sudden, I went from being incredibly healthy to high-risk. It was really jarring. And so, I mean, what that meant for me at the midpoint of my pregnancy was that I went from the regular doctor’s appointments that you have to endure to really going to a maternal-fetal medicine doctor almost on a weekly basis. And then once I hit my third trimester, I was going into the hospital pretty much every single day of the week for NST test and dopplers and appointments with maternal-fetal medicine specialist and my OB.
It was really at that point where I just experienced a tremendous amount of stress, and I didn’t know what to do. It’s like I think if you’re in that position and you’re told you have a high-risk pregnancy, at some point there is this feeling of like, what can I do to help? What can I do to ensure the best possible outcome for my baby? And when doctors say like, “There’s really nothing that you can do. You know, we just have to keep monitoring you.” That’s a really helpless place to be in, and it really caused me a lot of stress. And so, I mean, every week that my pregnancy continued, I viewed it as another week that we survived. Like, one step closer to the finish line.
The birth day happened to be on a Saturday. So every week that we got a Saturday hit, I would be so fortunate to receive these emails from all of the app saying like, “Your baby is the size of a pineapple.” And I just felt so grateful because every week, every Saturday, I got to be with my baby still inside. It meant like we were still doing well. And so that was the yardstick that I used to measure my pregnancy, and it just created a lot of stress.
And so at some point, I decided to shift my energy to what can I actually control, because I really felt like I couldn’t control a whole lot at that point. And the more I researched, I realize what I can control is my mental well-being and preparing for this birth, and so I poured all of my energy into that. On the mental side, I started using Expectful, I’ve always had a meditation practice and I used it throughout my life to help keep me grounded during stressful times. But what I really found was that Expectful’s meditations that are guided on a week-by-week basis for pregnancy, they really helped me cope with my stress when really nothing else could help me. To me, the most amazing thing happened.
So every week, I’d go in for these monitors, pretty much every day, and I’d seen myself getting progressively worse and there was nothing that I could do to stop it. But at the point where I stop meditating, my condition kind of stabilized. So-
Rebecca Dekker: When you started meditating you mean?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. I mean, within a week. It was pretty amazing. I don’t know what I can attribute to that. I mean, I think probably a reduction in stress and I think that there had a lot of research that does show that meditation has a really positive impact on the outcome of stress. And so you can imagine that one is going under in a high-risk pregnancy, I think it’s possible to conclude that meditation does have a really positive impact on that condition. So I think Expectful’s meditations were really key in helping me get to the finish line. For that, I’m so grateful.
But one of the things I also decided to focus on was preparing for birth. I think one of the challenges that I faced was having a high-risk pregnancy kind of means that, at least from a doctor’s perspective, they very strongly feel that you should give birth in a hospital. And so from the very beginning, I was determined to have an unmedicated birth. And so I was in a situation where I thought, “How can I have an unmedicated birth and I’m high-risk? Like, what can I do?” And so I hired a doula whose fantastic and really helped me come up with a plan to still have an unmedicated birth in a hospital environment. And one of the things that I discovered to really mentally prepare me for doing this unmedicated birth was hypnobirthing.
And so in addition to my meditation practice, I was doing hypnobirthing every night and really by the time I got to pregnancy, I was just like in this … Excuse me, the time I got to birth, I was in this very zen state with a combination of hypnobirthing and my daily meditations. And it really helped me get to that finish line.
And so point came where I actually went into labor and I experience cramping one evening. I started, I pulled out my app and I started to do my meditations and I started to do my hypnobirthing, and I was so deep into the breathing that I didn’t even realize that I was in full-blown labor. And it wasn’t until my water broke that I realized like, “Oh, wow! I’m actually … I’m about to give birth.” And that’s really because I was just so deep into the breathing exercises.
Rebecca Dekker: And how many weeks were you at this point?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. At this point, I was 38 weeks. So like was-
Rebecca Dekker: You made it to term.
Nathalie Walton: I made it to 28 weeks, which was like, to me, getting to 38 weeks was such a blessing. I mean, I found out at week 20 that I was high-risk. I think it was around 150 somewhat days that I had to have this mentality of just one more day, one more week to get that finish line. But really through meditation and trying to reduce my stress and staying focused on what I could control, I did make it to 38 weeks and one day. And so for that, I’m very fortunate.
But just getting back to the point where I was started realizing that I’m in labor after my water broke and after enduring probably eight hours of cramps, I realized that I needed to get to hospital rather quickly. That was the advice that I received from my doula and my doctor just based on everything that had happened in the past 38 weeks.
And so as we drove to the hospital, I was in discomfort but I was surviving. And when I arrived at the hospital, I could barely walk. I saw a wheelchair. Someone came to me with a wheelchair and I’ve never been more grateful to be wheeled in my entire life, but I was wheeled to the room where examine you. I actually found out that upon arrival, I was eight centimeters dilated, which to me, felt like a huge win that I had gotten to eight centimeters dilated at home without any intervention. And when I was working with my doula, I think we would just plan to get to five centimeters. And so here I was, almost at the finish line. At this point, I was still very much focused on an unmedicated birth even though the pain that I felt I thought maybe I would change my mind. But fortunately, I had my doula, I had my husband reminding me that Nathalie, like this is what I prepared for. I can do this.
And so I refused an epidural and I just kept doing my hypnobirthing and I kept breathing deeply. I used nitrous oxide, which to me was so helpful because it just allowed me to focus on my breathing even more. All I had to do was inhale the gas when I was having a contraction. I mean, it really allowed me to get through the deepest pains of labor unmedicated.
I started at eight centimeters dilated in the hospital, I got to nine centimeters dilated, then I got 10 centimeters dilated, and I was about to push. As soon as I started pushing, my doula noticed a pretty massive blood clot. I couldn’t really see what was going on, but I could tell by the expression of the people’s faces in the room that something was very off and that this situation was becoming very dire. To be honest, I really was not aware of what was happening during my birth. I was so focused on breathing that I didn’t realize that there were issues going on. My husband and people in the room were like, “You were just so dialed in to your birth that like you weren’t aware that you were having a placental abruption.”
And so when I started to push and I had this blood clot, it became apparent that I was losing a lot of blood and that my son Everett was in a dangerous position. And so really without even realizing it, within seconds, I was wheeled into operating room for an emergency C-section. It was not what I wanted. I really desperately wanted to have this unmedicated birth, I was so close, but it was what I had to do. What made this really difficult was really my refusal of the epidural. So I think most of the time when women have C-section, they have an epidural. And so I just went under. The last thing I remember is being wheeled to the operating room and then several hours later, I wake up and I don’t have my baby with me, I don’t know where he is. I’m just in a room. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t even know if I had a baby. And so it was a really scary situation.
Fortunately, my son came out fine. He was just taken to the NICU. I got to see him several hours later. I definitely had a long recovery from that emergency C-section and it was a definitely turn of events that I had not planned for, which caused a lot of stress in the following weeks. But when I look back on it, I am fortunate that I was so dialed in to meditation and that I would so dialed in to hypnobirthing because it really allowed me to focus on the very few things that I could control in such a dire situation.
Rebecca Dekker: How long did your baby stay in the NICU for?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. My baby was in the NICU for two weeks, and we left just two days shy of his due date.
Rebecca Dekker: What was the reason he had to stay in the NICU?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. I mean, one of the challenges of having a placental issue is I had … Honestly, to close the loop here, is we didn’t really realize what was happening to my placenta until actually after I gave birth. And so I was being monitored for elevated inhibin and HCG that might have an impact on my placenta, but it wasn’t until I actually had a placenta abruption that we could, after-the-fact, say like, “Okay, your placenta was challenged during birth.” And so what that meant for us was that he was born on the smaller side. And so we were in the NICU to get him to a size where it’s safe to go home.
Rebecca Dekker: Okay. Were they able to examine the placenta afterwards to find out what was going on with it?
Nathalie Walton: I mean, that was something that I asked for, but here’s the reality, I was out cold, I wasn’t present, and when I asked for it after-the-fact, I’m not really even sure what happened. And I couldn’t advocate for myself, obviously, if I’m under general anesthesia. And in those kind of situations with an emergency C-section, at least at the hospital where I was, no one was allowed to be in the operating room. And so I didn’t have my husband advocating for the placenta, my doula. So it was probably a little too late. And at that point when you’re really in such an emergency situation, I think the only thing everyone was focused on was like-
Rebecca Dekker: Oh, yeah. What I was kind of inferring to is just like sometimes they’ll do like almost like…The doctors will send the placenta to the lab to check it out.
Nathalie Walton: That’s part of my frustration with the entire medical situation. It was something that I requested, but something that didn’t–.
Rebecca Dekker: That didn’t happen. Not that you know of.
Nathalie Walton: Yeah.
Rebecca Dekker: Okay.
Nathalie Walton: Which is something like I think I found time and time and again that advocating for yourself in pregnancy is something that one has to … Especially one that’s in a situation like mine, has to advocate for themselves because things don’t … People aren’t really thinking about necessarily what’s best for you and following up on your own needs.
Rebecca Dekker: So your baby was in a NICU for about two weeks. What was it like parenting your baby during that time?
Nathalie Walton: Parenting a baby in the NICU, for me, it was a challenge. It was a challenge for a couple of reasons. For me, I found parenting a baby in the NICU to be a challenge because the first thing is like, I was separated from my baby. And I was separated from him in a time where you’re supposed to be … Or I mean, in theory, you were supposed to be attached to your baby. That was really hard for me to swallow. Like, I had just given birth, I think it was maybe five or six hours before I even had the chance to see my son, and that separation was really difficult for me. So we were on a different floor. The L&D, labor and delivery floor was in a separate wing than the NICU. And so even physically getting to the NICU to see my son was a huge exercise that’s because I couldn’t I couldn’t walk. I had just had this really emergency C-section. And so in order to visit my son, I had to ask for a wheelchair and I had to be wheeled, and the whole ordeal would take about 20 minutes or so to get me to the NICU. So just the separation, that was really difficult for me.
And I think that the separation also had further implications as it relates to breastfeeding. I mean, I always planned to breastfeed. It’s something that I was very excited about, but I didn’t plan for having this emergency situation. And so I don’t think my body was prepared to make milk right away, and I think also the stress and trauma from what happened really made it challenging as it pertains to my milk supply. And also being separated, made skin to skin contact really difficult. And so I really struggled with breastfeeding for about 15 weeks to be completely honest. I was doing triple feeding for 15 weeks, which is I would not wish that on anyone. And for anyone that doesn’t know what triple feeding is, it’s breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and pumping.
When I looked at one of the apps that I use to track how much time I spent breastfeeding, pumping, and bottle feeding, I think by week nine, it showed that I spent over eight full days doing this, which is eight full days of 24 hours. And this was just at week nine. And so I just couldn’t believe the amount of work that I was spending to get there.
Rebecca Dekker: After you were kind of starting to recover, were you hospitalized for the full two weeks too or did they discharge you before your son?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. So I was in the hospital for five days, which is I think standard for a C-section. So I said separation was difficult for me, but a big part of that was like … Being a mother to a NICU baby, it’s your own physical discomfort, especially if you go through an emergency C-section. I mean, like I mentioned, I couldn’t walk, I had to be wheeled around. I couldn’t sneeze or cough. And I gave birth at the end of December, which is flu season. And so the fear of coughing was something that was a risk for me. And so I still needed to recover. I mean, I was only at the hospital for five days, but I felt like I needed a good six weeks to recover. Like getting in and out of bed was hard, going to the bathroom was really difficult. And so that was another thing that was so difficult about the NICU was just my physical inability to be present.
Rebecca Dekker: So I know a lot of NICUs are changing to have private rooms where the parent can room-in. Was that the case where you were? Or, after you’re discharged, did you have to go home and then just come in to visit your baby?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. Fortunately, my NICU did have a private room situation. With that being said, I just recovered from surgery. I didn’t want to sleep on a couch.
Rebecca Dekker: A recliner? Okay, yeah.
Nathalie Walton: And really I think the advice that I got from the NICU nurses, advice that I would give to any parent that’s going through the NICU is that use that time to take care of yourself. If I had stayed overnight in the room with my son, I would not have been doing anyone a favor. I’d have the bright lights, I’d have people coming to interrupt my sleep. I think when we got home, I would have been in an even worse state. So I took advantage of the fact that my baby was in the NICU, he was with some of the best doctors in the world. And so I went home at night and slept and I took care of myself. Something that made me feel better about the whole situation was one of the nurses said that, “The NICU was like having the most expensive babysitters in the world, and so like don’t feel bad about leaving your baby here to take care of yourself.” And so I really appreciated that. Because had I not been able to sleep in my own bed, I don’t know how I would really made it.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah, because you had just gone through a life-threatening event and you were recovering from that and you needed that sleep. So it sounds like you were making a decision so that you can then care for your son after he came home. So what was it like bringing your baby home then?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. I mean, I think bringing a baby home was … I mean, we were so relieved to bring him home. I think coming home from the NICU without a baby, so that span of after I got discharged before Everett came home, that was one of the loneliest times I’ve ever experienced in my life. I just did this and like I should … I mean, I felt like I should be coming home with the baby yet I was coming home by myself, and that was really lonely. So it was a very joyous occasion when we were able to bring Everett home. But then I mean, we were thrown into it like all new parents are, and it was really difficult. We had no idea what to expect. We didn’t realize that we would be up all night for the next several weeks. Actually, months. I mean, Everett just turned 11 months. Even though he’s sleep trained, I still don’t get a good night sleep. And so I mean, there’s just so much that even though he was home, we were wildly unprepared for, even though I felt like I had prepared so much.
Rebecca Dekker: It sounds like what you experienced was a birth trauma and that you had that threat to your life and your baby’s life. How did you cope with that experience? What steps did you take to heal?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. I mean, what I’d say about this and for anyone that does experience a birth trauma is that it can take a very long time to heal. I’m 11 months away my son’s birth and it really wasn’t until probably six months past his due date or past the time he was born that I really started realizing that, oh, maybe something really traumatic happened to me that I had to address. Because in the months immediately following his birth, I was so focused on just being present for my son and taking care of him and breastfeeding, and that I didn’t really have a chance to take care of myself. And so I bring that up because people that do experience birth trauma, it can take a long time to resolve.
And so the steps that I did, one of the things that might help me the most was I was a part of a mother circle and it was really in that mother circle where I met with any other mothers. Most of them didn’t have a traumatic birth. But in that circle, we often shared like the struggles that we were going through at the time. And having that camaraderie with other women that had babies that were born within a couple weeks of my own really helped me prepare to be the best mother that I could. And knowing that what I was going through was not unique in terms of raising my son, not the birth trauma, and just providing that support.
But to really answer your questions, how did I deal with the birth trauma? I mean, I think that some of the best ways to deal with that … So like, I’ve used a lot of Expectful’s meditation. We have these fantastic meditations on birth trauma, but also through therapy. That was something that I found to be really helpful. Because inside, I really felt like a lot of this was my fault. When in reality, it wasn’t my fault. I mean, I was doing everything that I could do to get to a healthy birth, but there is definitely some element of blame that I felt for myself. And so it was really therapy that helped in combination with meditation.
Rebecca Dekker: It sounds like it’s fair to say, you’re right, you’re still in the healing process because it can take years to recover from a traumatic birth, but it sounds like you’re working on it, which is really important in getting help.
Nathalie Walton: Yes. I think for people that go through birth trauma, I would absolutely recommend therapy because there are a lot of wounds that can be hidden and that you can see come up in your life in many different ways post birth. And that’s what I started to see. Months after I gave birth, I realize, I’m still not okay. And part of it was when I was in my mother’s circle, I would ask my facilitator, I’d ask other moms saying like, “I’m facing an exhaustion that I don’t think is normal.” Like, “Do other people have this?” And I kept asking that question week after week. And at some point, I think my facilitator was like, “You know, Nathalie, I think at this point, like you actually might want to get help. Like, it sounds that your exhaustion might not just be a normal exhaustion.”
Rebecca Dekker: It’s not just sleep deprivation from parenting.
Nathalie Walton: It’s not just sleep deprivation. And I realized it was really the stress that I was harboring due to what happened to me. And so it was therapy that helped me really start to recover from that.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. In your mother’s circle and in your work at Expectful, have you noticed that a lot of parents seem to struggle with anxiety or stress during pregnancy, especially during COVID?
Nathalie Walton: Oh my gosh, yes, I have noticed that. So we recently, Expectful did a survey with 1,000 pregnant and new mothers and we found that 76% of pregnant and new moms struggle with stress and anxiety during pregnancy, particularly as it pertains to COVID. I saw research from that study that showed that 68% of pregnant and new mom struggle with sleep, in particular due to COVID. And so at Expectful I’ve seen that this is something that pretty much the vast majority of women are facing, whether they’re trying to conceive, whether they’re pregnant or they’re new mothers. And so yes, it’s period that is stressful to begin with, but I think COVID obviously exacerbates the stress.
Rebecca Dekker: What are parents stressed about?
Nathalie Walton: I think that’s a great question. I mean, if you think about the time that a woman conceives to like really the end of the first year. I mean, and you think about all of the changes that this woman undergoes. So her body grows, her hormone shift, her sleep fluctuates in pregnancy and also definitely in postpartum. Sleep is definitely an issue. But just like the structure of her family changes. Like, there’s really not a period in life when one goes through so much change as one does when they give birth. And so I think that, that change naturally causes a lot of anxiety and stress. But I think that there are other factors that are making women more stressed. Honestly, I think that the biggest driver of stress for pre and postnatal women is really our cultural failure to support mothers during a time of such momentous change.
And so I look at things like maternity leave. I mean, I was fortunate to have a very good maternity leave. But when I look at other countries. Like, I look at my peers and colleagues in the UK, they have 52 weeks of maternity leave. And so I just think about what if I have that kind of time to really return to normal before starting to work again. But also I think it’s just the structural challenge of actually finding support. I mean, when I think about my experience of finding a doula. I found a doula only by asking my OB. She gave me a list of 10 doulas and I had to call or email or text 10 doulas in order to find one that I wanted. And the whole process took me 20 hours. And I just think about every other thing or most services today have been automated. I mean, you can get the car via Uber, you can get your groceries delivered via Instacart, but why is finding care for such an important time, like a doula or lactation consultant, why is it so broken and offline and has never been innovated? And so I think that’s another problem that really creates a lot of stress is just how this world of support for maternal support has not been innovated in a very long time.
Rebecca Dekker: Well, it used to be … I mean, there was kind of a break in the natural way how that support was structured. It used to just be part of your family and your community. But now, as society, our culture has change and it become more fragmented, you have to hire professional support. And it’s not your auntie next door, or whoever, or your sisters. Like, we don’t see birth, we don’t see breastfeeding, or chestfeeding, and so it’s all new when we experience it for the first time.
Nathalie Walton: Yes.
Rebecca Dekker: Whereas in past, and our ancestors, you learned it from a young child what it was all about and you’re surrounded by your support system. So I agree.
Nathalie Walton: Yeah, you absolutely are. I mean, I just think about breastfeeding for me and I really did struggle with breastfeeding. I mean, my baby was small which makes it a little bit more difficult to latch, but I also had to start pumping because I was in the NICU or my baby was in the NICU and I was separated. I think that I saw about nine different lactation consultants.
Rebecca Dekker: So you didn’t have a continuity of the same person?
Nathalie Walton: I did, but it wasn’t working. I wasn’t getting the results that I needed, and so I just like …
Rebecca Dekker: Kept trying to find the right person?
Nathalie Walton: I kept trying and I’m so fortunate that I had the resources and the time and energy to do so. I was determined. But the entire time during postnatal experience in finding a lactation consultant so that I could breastfeed, I kept thinking like, what do people do that don’t have these resources? I mean, how are women set up to succeed? And just the reality is flat out that they’re not. And so I think-
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. It’s not that people are falling through cracks. There is this giant, wide, open canyon that everybody falls into.
Nathalie Walton: Everyone fall through it, everyone. I mean, I recently read a study that said, 92% of new mother struggle with breastfeeding in the first week of life. You’re right, everyone is falling through that canyon. It’s not just the cracks, everyone is suffering.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. So tell us about your role at Expectful. When did you arrive there and what are your hopes for what you want to achieve there?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. So I arrived in September and its really … I came there through having used Expectful during my own pregnancy and as I’ve spoken, really found the value that it provided to me. And so I started advising Expectful, just as like a fun side project while I was on maternity leave. And I just formed a really close relationship with the founder and it made sense for me to come on as the CEO, and so I joined in September. And really it was my traumatic experience as a pregnant woman, as a new mother and really around the experience that I had of finding the support that I need that motivated me to want to come to Expectful. And so really what I’m trying to do is bring support to women that need it. I mean, today, Expectful provides that support through meditation and sleep, but as I think about the next year, I’m doing a lot to expand that support.
In January, we’re launching mother circles because that was something that was critical for me as my journey to new motherhood. We’ve also recently launched live meditations for women that are trying to conceive and pregnant women and we’re providing that community where people can come together and talk about their shared experiences. So I’m motivated to fix this big gap in the canyon that we see that most women fall through, and I’m really coming to provide that support and a focus on a woman’s well-being, not just her baby but how does a woman thrive.
Rebecca Dekker: So what’s available at Expectful? So it’s meditations for pregnancy, sleep, parenting, and you said you have for people struggling with fertility issues. So is there … Yeah.
Nathalie Walton: Yeah, so we have the world’s largest library of meditations for trying to conceive, for pregnancy, and for new mothers. One of the most popular areas of Expectful is actually around sleep, which is not surprising because sleep for new parents is something that is so difficult to come by. Even myself, I really struggle with sleep as a pregnant woman. Perhaps it was due to the stress, perhaps it was due to the heartburn, but I really just struggle with sleep in pregnancy.
Another thing that we just launched is hypnobirthing. Hypnobirthing to me was transformative. I mean, it was life-changing. The power to experience an unmedicated birth, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more powerful than my experience. That’s why I’m really excited that we launched hypnobirthing last month. And so that course is now available on Expectful.
Rebecca Dekker: That’s awesome. How can parents try out the Expectful app?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. There are several ways to try out Expectful. One can go to Expectful.com. We’re also available on the Apple App Store, on Android app store as well.
Rebecca Dekker: And is there a scholarship program?
Nathalie Walton: Yes. I mean, I think one of the challenges that I really am hoping to solve is that I want to provide access to well-being for everyone, regardless if one can afford access or not. And so Expectful has what we call a Helping Hands program, where anyone that can’t afford the Expectful membership can get free membership by reaching out to us. And all that one has to do is email email@example.com and we will make sure to get them complimentary subscriptions to Expectful within 48 hours.
Rebecca Dekker: Wow, that’s amazing. Nathalie, do you have any words of wisdom, after everything you’ve experienced in the last couple of years, for parents who are entering birth or parenthood soon?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah, I do have advise, and this is based on everything kind of going wrong. But my advice to aspiring mothers is to let go of expectations. The road to becoming a mother, it can be a beautiful road, it can be a difficult road, but the thing that’s important to remember is that there’s so much that is out of one’s control. And so letting go of expectations upfront I think will set up mothers for success. And the sooner that one can embrace the unpredictability that accompanies creating a human life, I believe that the more strength one will have to conquer any unforeseen circumstances.
And my last bit of advice would be to focus less on the material objects that accompany birth and getting into parenthood. I mean, I spent so much time thinking about, do I have the right crib? Do I have the right stroller? Do I have the right burp cloths? And the reason I spent so much time on this was because it was something I could control and I had the power to make sure that I was doing the best that I could for my baby, and that felt good. But I would say in hindsight that I focused a lot less on my mental well-being and just preparing mentally for the transition that I would have to motherhood, and you actually can prepare for that. And I think you can prepare by meditations, you can prepare in many other ways, just changing your mental outlook. And so I would just encourage mothers to focus less on the material items and focus on preparing themselves for this beautiful and challenging transition of entering motherhood.
Rebecca Dekker: So it’s more about preparing yourself, educating yourself, and gathering your support team than it is all the physical trappings of parenthood that society tells us we need all of the latest and greatest gadgets and baby gear.
Nathalie Walton: Absolutely. I think that, that is 100% correct is focus less on the material and focus more on your support and your well-being.
Rebecca Dekker: And I’m curious, I know at the very beginning of our discussion, you mentioned that you experienced the failures of our healthcare system. What do you see those failures were in your situation? I know you had a life-threatening event and you and your baby did survive, so where were the failures in the system and where do you see we need to work on in our country?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. I mean, I think there are so many failures that it’s hard to list, but I’ll try to highlight a couple. I think one of big failures in medicine is, at least how I experienced it myself, was the human error that is involved in pregnancy. I say that I encountered a lot of false positives and false negative as it pertains to my ultrasound. I was constantly being monitored, the dopplers and the NST test. Like, you’re being monitored very frequently. And when you’re being measured, it’s like a human is measuring you. And I had a couple of experiences where my measurements were really off and they would cross a threshold where it would sound an alarm. And I’d come in the next week and we’d be fine. Like I’d asked, “Help me explain this.” And really, it just became clear to me that it was too many error. And so I think that is a really big failure of medicine as it pertains to pregnancy. So, that’s one.
And then I’d say the other is just probably around lack of transparency and information. So I frequently go to Evidence Based Birth® to have my questions answered. I mean, I went through a lot, and so I had many questions. And when I’d ask my doctor for advice, some of the advice I would get was like, “Well, you know, I had two patients in my 20 years of working and like this is what they did, so like, this is what I would recommend that you did.” I mean, that’s great, but let’s look at some evidence here. And so I think that there’s just a human disposition for … We’re not looking at holistic evidence and rather just giving anecdotal advice. And so I’d say that, that’s another big failure of the medical system. Those are probably the two biggest challenges that I face.
Rebecca Dekker: And when you were describing the atmosphere in your appointments and all the testing that you had to go to, it sounds like it almost created a hyper vigilance, a hyper awareness that could actually be detrimental to your pregnancy, if that makes sense.
Nathalie Walton: Absolutely. I feel that, that was really the case. That was absolutely a challenge that I saw in my experience.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. And it’s hard because you want to do the best you can as you parent, so like, “Yes, I’ll come to every single appointment. What do you want me to do?” But at the same time, there’s that balance of tracking the pregnancy and seeing what’s going on, but also overly stimulating your anxiety, if that makes sense.
Nathalie Walton: Yeah, it absolutely makes sense. And I really feel that it was more of like the healthcare system wanting to protect themselves saying that-
Rebecca Dekker: So do you think there’s a little bit of a liability reason?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah, I felt like a liability. Like, because this one time we made this human error and we saw that you’re high risk, you now have to come in to all of these appointments so that you can’t sue us. Even though coming into all of these appointments, five days a week, spending two to three hours in an appointment a day and having to miss work. Even though that probably will cause you more stress, you have to do this now. It’s just from a liability perspective. Honestly, that’s what it felt like was that it was an over … I don’t want to say over, it was almost like an over medication of my pregnancy from a liability perspective, which created even more stress. As you mentioned, I mean, you want to do what’s best for your baby. Of course, I want to show up to these appointment. But at the same time, did I need to show up to all those appointments? I don’t think we-
Rebecca Dekker: Did they have to have it at the frequency that they did?
Nathalie Walton: Yeah. I don’t-
Rebecca Dekker: Obviously, you had some placental issues although, you’ll never really know exactly what was wrong with the placenta.
Nathalie Walton: I never will. I never will. But my dopplers, my NSTs, all of my tests, they were normal. They were normal tests.
Rebecca Dekker: Normal, okay. Normal test results.
Nathalie Walton: So nothing was ever flagged to be wrong. I mean, I was just like I was going to these appointments, I was following all orders but I was really kept questioning, like, “Why. What is really going on that is so wrong?” And so that was just an answer that I never got. And I don’t think that most people will get that in the medical system probably because due to liability..
Rebecca Dekker: Nathalie, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and your experiences. Is there anything else you want to share before we go?
Nathalie Walton: No. I mean, I thank you so much for having me on. I really benefited from Evidence Based Birth® and I appreciate the nature of evidence. I would take some of the printouts, I would bring them to my doctor. So I was more informed. So I really appreciate what you’re doing and you’re really helping to close that gap in care for them women, so thank you.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. Thank you, Nathalie.
This podcast episode was brought to you by the book Babies Are Not Pizzas: They’re Born, Not Delivered! Babies Are Not Pizzas is a memoir that tells the story of how I navigated a broken healthcare system and uncovered how I could still receive evidence-based care. In this book, you’ll learn about the history of childbirth and midwifery, the evidence of a variety of birth topics, and how we can prevent preventable trauma in childbirth. Babies Are Not Pizzas is available on Amazon as a Kindle, paperback, hardcover, and Audible book. Get your copy today and make sure to email me after you read it to let me know your thoughts.
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My main goal for Evidence Based Birth® is to provide summaries of the latest evidence on birth practices for both consumers and clinicians. However, I will continue to present interviews with women, family members, and clinicians who have put evidence-based birth...