Laura Gene moved across the country in 2015, straight into the arms of 'crunchy' community.
However, she slowly realized the group had more extreme views than she first thought.
As well as home birth and coffee enemas, the group favored Trump, QAnon, and homophobic views.
A mom who spent years in an alternative "crunchy" movement that rejects Western medicine and embraces coffee enemas has been charting her journey back to a mainstream lifestyle.
Laura Gene, 36, told Insider she fell into the community at a vulnerable time, when she was heavily pregnant and had made a long-distance move with her husband.
She described spending some five years as a dedicated follower of the movement, refusing to vaccinate her child and risking a dangerous home birth, before pulling away.
"Crunchy" is a catch-all term for a lifestyle that embraces a natural diet and remedies, often to the extreme, opting for pregnancies without medical intervention, home births, plastic-free toys, and prolonged breastfeeding.
Now Gene uses her TikTok account, where she has over 110,000 followers, to educate people about how easy it is to get sucked in like she did.
Gene found herself bang in the middle of a phenomenon that's come to be known as the "crunchy to alt-right pipeline," where an appreciation for a macrobiotic diet and cloth diapers comes in tandem with political extremism.
And it was intolerance that shocked her into leaving, she said.
"After five years, one of my friends went on this completely transphobic, homophobic rant," Gene told Insider. "And after that, it was a very slow climb out of all things crunchy."
She said that posting about her experience led her to many others in the same situation. "We thought that we were totally alone," she said. "We're just a dime a dozen really. There's a ton of us."
Gene says she got into a crunchy lifestyle in 2015 through a yoga studio after making a major move with her husband.
She said she was struggling with her anxiety, worried she was going to "screw up" being a mom, and joined a prenatal yoga studio to help cope. Gene said though she still likes yoga quite a lot, this particular place "just happened to be the wrong studio."
Gene's life became more and more alternative
Slowly, Gene started getting sucked into "alternative" ways of life and never checking in with medical professionals — "everything against the Western model," she said.
The studio became a "one stop shop" for everything, so she believed she didn't need to go for checkups at all. Instead she would visit alternative practitioners like chiropractors and naturopaths.
Crunchy lifestyles have a lot of provisions for new parents: some are harmless like "baby wearing," which is carrying around your newborn in a chest sling.
Gene encountered more extreme beliefs too, such as being completely against vaccines, and the adoption of the "sovereign citizen movement," where people reject the authority of the government, and parents refuse even to get their kids a birth certificate.
"They're telling you, you can't trust white coats, doctors, you can't trust schools, you can't trust the government," Gene said. "There are all these conspiracies, and when you start buying into one, it becomes really easy to buy into the others."
Gene has a degree in psychology and considers herself a scientifically minded person.
But she "still got totally caught up in it," she said, because of the supposed evidence the community would provide of the alleged benefits of diffusing essential oils around babies, drinking a smoothie with a portion of her placenta in it, or using coffee enemas to "wipe out" cancerous cells.
Gene said she resisted having a hospital birth, even though she was at risk because her son was in a breech position. After trying to do a home birth on the phone to a midwife, Gene ended up rushing to hospital where she said doctors saved her life and her baby's.
But, she said, this didn't make her question the beliefs. Rather, it made them stronger.
"I was of the mindset that all breech babies could be born this way, here's proof, I did it," she wrote in an essay for Newsweek. "I birthed my baby vaginally and any doctor who performs a C-section is robbing a mother of this beautiful experience, her 'divine femininity.'"
The community, Gene said, also started becoming obsessed with QAnon around the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a belief she said made no sense to her. One by one she saw her friends "falling for it and posting these insane things" about Trump and the elusive figure known as "Q".
During lockdown, everyone around Gene was saying the pandemic wasn't real, and it was part of a conspiracy to keep them locked inside the house, control them with microchips, or to cover up the arrival of aliens.
"It really did sound to me like a lot of my friends were having collective mental breakdowns," Gene said.
Everything started falling apart after the first vaccine
The anti-trans rant from a friend coincided with Gene and her husband deciding to vaccine their son, then 4 years old, ahead of sending him to public school.
After making that call she also questioned other beliefs, in particular wondering whether using essential oils on her son could have worsened his eczema rather than helping it.
"Everything just fell apart one by one," she said.
Now, three years later, she can't imagine how she believed any of it.
Getting out of an extreme lifestyle might seem victorious and liberating, but it was actually that "darkest time" in Gene's life, she said. She questioned every decision she made, wondering if she was crazy for being an anti-vaxxer, or the opposite.
"Like, which is the right thing?" she said. "What am I doing? Am I poisoning my kids?"
Her crunchy friends also starting freezing her out — banning their kids from playing with hers in case it "shed the vaccine particles onto their children."
People were telling her she was "brainwashed" and she was falling into the hands of the government.
"People still tell me that today," she said. "And as far away from the crunchy lifestyle as I am, my brain pings for a second, and I'm like, am I still doing the right thing or am I brainwashed?"
Gene has found a new community on TikTok
Gene is also still disconnected from the people she knew before she became crunchy, because she thinks they don't believe she's really changed. This is why her therapist suggested starting a TikTok account.
Thanks to sharing her story, people often get in touch with Gene telling her they've had a change of heart when it comes to vaccines and modern medicine. This shows no matter how far someone is down a dark path, she said, they can always return.
"The best is when somebody is really very, very crunchy and they do not believe any of the information that I'm saying," she said. "Then a few months later they're like, yeah, I just got my kids vaccinated."
Gene said she doesn't believe that every natural therapy is somehow evil and will lead to conspiracy theories. People can favor essential oils while also sending their children to school, because it is a "spectrum," she said.
"If you want to consider yourself a crunchy mama still, go ahead," she said. "You can still do that and also vaccinate your kids."
Read the original article on Insider