ELEANOR TAYLOR | REGULARS
Tiktok Doing its Thang
There I was, minding my own business on the Tiktok explore page, being hand-fed tantalizing tidbits of information about other people’s lives when I came across #CrunchyMom. The first post under this hashtag I saw was from a user named @LifeofFern. In the video, a 10-month-old named Fern was eating rocks and soil from a creek. This was very strange, and I absolutely fell down a rabbit hole discovering that this account was populated with videos of Fern eating leaves and rocks, being a vegan baby and also co-sleeping with his mother, Alice. This entertained me for a few minutes and then I got bored and returned to the explore page. Alice and Fern are now infamous on Tiktok. It is amazing to me that a baby can be famous, but Fern has done it. What I did not know was that Alice would go viral and that thousands of people would duet her videos calling her a “crunchy child abuser”, someone who must hate her son.
Alice does not adhere to conventional parenting wisdom. She co-sleeps with Fern and doesn’t follow a regular sleeping pattern with him, she does not vaccinate him, and she is a free birther. This just means she believes in homebirths (Alice gave birth to Fern on a toilet) and is anti-medicine, because doctors lie to women. The thing is, Alice is not alone. She is a #CrunchyMom and just one of many women online sharing their journeys as anti-establishment (normally stay at home) mothers. I want to explore why this movement has taken off, and what it means for women in the 21st century.
What Maketh the Mom “Crunchy”?
The best definition I could find for Crunchy Mom was from an article called Why I’m a Proud Scrunchie Mom which I found on The House and Homestead website where the author lays out the parameters for crunchy parenting as follows:
“The definition of a “crunchy mom” is a mom who practices natural parenting or, as defined by one website, a “neo-hippie.” So basically if you are a crunchy mom, you typically give birth at home (or in a meadow or river or something), cloth-diaper your babes, prepare all your own organic baby foods, co-sleep, breastfeed exclusively (no bottles or formula), believe in baby-led weaning and are anti-vaccinations.”
Why are these women called “crunchy”? I actually made a guess that it was because granola crunches and granola has natural organic connotations. But through some googling, I also discovered that “granola” is slang for “hippy”.
Luckily, Anna, who wrote Why I’m a Proud Scrunchie Mom has some extra information. The opposite of a Crunchy Mom is the “Silky Mom”. She is described as follows;
“A silky mom is a mom who gives birth in the sterile hospital environment, uses disposable diapers and may breastfeed but also bottle feeds and maybe formula feeds too. She buys baby food from the store, uses a stroller rather than a baby-wearing device, vaccinates her kiddos and banishes them to a crib where they may even be left to cry it out until they finally give up and fall asleep.”
Mothers in the middle are called “Scrunchie Moms”m which has recently become a new trend on Tiktok, a response to Crunchy Moms which reveals that it's possible to be earthy and granola munching AND scientific. The other term I see used for these mothers is Crispy.
A big part of the “Crunchy” philosophy is that medicine ignores women and their concerns for the sake of efficiency. Women such as Alice have experienced trauma in medical settings which has forced them to re-evaluate their understanding of the medical system. For example, Alice (the mother of Fern) claims the death of her first child was due to medical interventions to which she did not give informed consent. And she is not the only person to experience medical trauma from giving birth.
Unfortunately, in medical contexts, the overriding of consent has been normalised. This can be seen in episiotomies in Australia. Baby Center says “An episiotomy is a small cut made in the skin and muscle from the entrance of the vagina towards the back passage. This area is called your perineum”. They also note that episiotomies should only occur when absolutely necessary, generally if a baby is distressed and the birthing process needs to be sped up.
In Australia, 16% of women have episiotomies, and in private hospitals sometimes it can be up to 26%. In the 1980s, up to 90% of women had this procedure completed.
Through my own conversations with the women around me, I have heard the same story multiple times and it goes like this… “I was in labor and so focused on giving birth that I did not even know the doctor had completed an episiotomy until I felt stitches afterwards”. This is a surgery being completed on someone who has not consented. Take a moment to consider the significance of that. One Queensland study found that 35% of women were given episiotomies without being informed. That medical professionals can routinely violate an individual's bodily autonomy when they are at their most vulnerable is disgusting.
In an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, some women experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to their “[l]ack of adequate consent and understanding about birth-related procedures”. In one account, a nurse recalls an incident where a woman in labour was sedated because she objected to her doctor’s actions. She goes on to say, "I've witnessed some births that haunt me."
There are absolutely scenarios when women are in danger and procedures are essential. In one account, the reason provided for an episiotomy is that the mother was “taking too long”. Other examples of women being ignored include the standardisation of giving birth on your back which is done for the convenience of medical caregivers rather than for the comfort of the mother. Alternative positions make birth less painful and in some cases reduce complications (which in turn reduces medical interventions). One factor of this is the use of epidurals which prevent women from moving so they cannot switch positions. This again increases the reliance on doctors and nurses.
In this context, and having experienced this, how would you be able to continue trusting the medical/scientific communities? Crunchy Moms are onto something when they discuss informed consent and its absence in the birthing process. I have sympathy for women like Alice who have been failed by the institutions they were raised to trust. And I feel sympathy for them when the internet cyberbullies the shit out of them for it. Yes, the Crunchy Mom vaccine misinformation is atrocious and upsetting, but abusing someone on the internet will not make them agree with you.
Once you begin consuming information from fringe sources, social media and search engine algorithms will provide you with information from even more fringe sources, facilitating your radicalisation. That's how someone can begin with “women should be allowed to reject to surgeries” and then end up in a weird spot where they think microwaves and deodorants cause cancer and that “the fluoride in the water is part of a massive doping scheme by the government”.
It is objectively funny that some people think allowing their kids to eat rocks will make them genius babies with super immune systems. But I also think we need to acknowledge the tragic realities that women contend with, especially regarding medicine. #CrunchyMoms do not exist in a vacuum; they have been created by a misogynistic society that has refused to hear their concerns. The more medical institutions marginalise women and their valid worries surrounding healthcare and childbirth, the more women will unnecessarily suffer and the more likely women will be vulnerable to harmful misinformation.