Monday, November 27, 2006

the Primal Mothering scandals

Years ago, when I had just become a mother for the first time, I spent a lot of time online reading various parenting boards and parenting advice. I ran across a woman who styled herself "Mango Mama", Jennifer van Laanen Smit, who was a guru to many.

Mango Mama, who lived in Hawaii with her husband and two small children, was a charismatic, outspoken presence. She had many extreme beliefs which she propounded, beginning with unassisted home birth. Craftily enough, Mango Mama suggested to her acolytes that they buy a large rubber tub at Walmart or Home Depot, leaving the stickers on the sides, and then, after using it to give birth in, return it for a full refund. (All I can say is, "Ewww!")

Another one of Mango Mama's heartily-espoused beliefs was "the Lotus Birth." This means not separating the baby from the placenta after birth. Instead, the placenta is periodically blotted with a towel and salted. Eventually, the placenta and cord will drop off the newborn, but until that happens, Mango Mama and her acolytes urged that you care for the placenta, just as if it were a baby as well. This particularly skeeved me out, as reading accounts of women who'd actually conducted "Lotus births" I observed they seemed much, much more into the placenta than the actual baby, which certainly seemed to take a backseat to its temporary sister or brother.

Van Laanen Smit was well-known in the Waldorf movement, and her children allegedly led a life of Waldorf home-education perfection. They had no plastic toys; their attentive mother was constantly feeding them fresh fruit and creating little learning festivals (I remember reading about alternative holidays she thought up, which seemed exhausting to me).

Mango Mama was the ultimate stay-at-home mother and guru to the overachieving, "crunchy" mothers of the world. But then something happened: Mango Mama ran off to Australia with another man, where she allegedly had her first female ejaculation orgasms, which changed her life. She took down her websites, and whatever has become of her today is a mystery to me and to others who remember her vivid online presence as a hectoring, better-than-you overachieving mother.

Last night, for whatever reason, I felt nostalgic about Mango Mama. I wanted to once again read (and snigger at) her list of Frugal Tips (the sniggering to climax at the instructions to return a birthing tub afterwards for cash back). I wanted to wonder again at the bizarreness of the Lotus Birth. I couldn't find those precious writings (and that is a loss to the world, I'm telling you). I did find other women wondering what had become of her in much the same spirit. And, without expecting it, I ran across ANOTHER mothering scandal, this one ongoing, oddly linked to Mango Mama's.

Another mothering guru, who styled herself Hygeia Halfmoon, wrote a book about "Primal Mothering in a Modern World", which sports a picture of none other than the Mango Mama herself on the cover. Ms. Halfmoon promoted "unschooling" and a vegan diet, as well as a variety of other things, and now, like her cover model, has become a figure of scandal. It turns out that one of Ms. Halfmoon's children has been taken away by the state and is in foster care. Another one allegedly cannot read. But what is really irking the masses is the revelation that Ms. Halfmoon, while publicly conducting a fast to purify herself, was taken on a date and, unable to resist the urge to get while the getting was good, devoured a steak and a margarita.

Ms. Halfmoon's 13 year-old was taken away due to an inappropriate relationship with a 25 year-old "fiance", and Ms. Halfmoon's take on this is that her daughter "has the right to be loved" and that the daughter's removal is due to the state attempting to repress the radical philosophy of "Primal Mothering." Addressing the real meat of the scandal, Hygeia contends that during her fast, a vision of a Native American came to her, instructing her to eat meat and honor the spirit of the hunt, and THAT is why she ran off and had that steak. (No word yet on the spiritual origins of the margarita).

Perhaps I should start soliciting donations, a la Hygiea Halfmoon, so I can promulgate my mothering philosophy. At least with me, you know I'm going to get the margarita, and unlike Hygiea Halfmoon, I can safely promise you there will be no steak-eating. But that won't bring Mango Mama back to us. Oh, Mango Mama, wherever you are today, please come back, with your journals and lists and naggy, weird advice. We miss you.

24 comments:

Jen Grappone said...

Heya,

Have you tried the Wayback Machine? (It's at archive.org.) You can use it if you remember her old URL, which I couldn't recall.

-Jen

hughman said...

frankly, "mango mama" sounds like a freak. like preachers who say one thing and then run off and do meth with gay hookers.

but what do i know.

Freewheel said...

I agree with Hughman. But that's a great story, nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I've never met a mango I trusted

Dawn said...

Another thing about Mango is that she made her oldest son very, very sick by feeding him an all raw food diet.

Crazy.

I get more hits from that post than almost any other post so I bet you will get visitors coming in on this one for a long, long time!!! We're not the only ones who wonder about her!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Wow, you sure don't sound like her "friend" I also know Jennifer personally and do speak with her often.

For those that really care about what happened to her, she happens to be better now. She lives about 3 miles from the kids. They still live with Eric in the same house they used to live in and she's about 3 miles down the road. She's working and supporting herself.

We all make mistakes in life and trust me, after what she went through after leaving, she was a sick girl emotionally and physically and I'm thrilled she's doing better now.

Roberta
rradunderhill@earthlink.net

Anonymous said...

Dude, she has a myspace, as do 2 of her 3 kids. She is a very disturbed person, indeed. However, I do think the reason so many mom's loved visiting her site was because she presented herself and her life as rather fairy tale/utopian. Who wouldn't want to young and beautiful living in the wilds of Hawaii? I also think the curiousity remains (until now when her mysterious disappearance has finally some closure) because she went from one extreme to another, so drastically, so quickly. It was startling and worrisome for her kids, whom, by all appearance, don't seem too emotionally healthy, either. Very, very sad.

Chef said...

can you please point me to a link with that story please? i'm wondering about what sickness one gets from an all raw food diet?

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you still care, but...

http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Woods/2924/index.html

You can access some of the old pages with the internet wayback machine!

Colleen said...

I LOVED MangoMama 'back in the day' ...I was SO non-crunchy that I read her stuff over and over again in fascination that anyone really lived this way!! Then she disappeared and I never even tried to find out why.

Something reminded me of her today and I stumbled here... OH MY!! I wish I had searched back then. I LOOOOOVE a good scandal ;)

Thanks for the info!

BACK TO BASICS BY LIVING GREEN said...

Does anyone have a link to the Myspace page?

larsenmamani said...

I miss Jennifer. I loved reading her philosophies. Searching for the right way to do things, and not being afraid to be different means that you take a chance of making mistakes or enemies or new discoveries -- it all goes together.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if you're interested, I have a PDF of her 'Natural Parenting' book. I ran across this entry (as I'm sure many have and many more will) doing a search for her on Yahoo. Anyhow, my email is nicole.m.murray@gmail.com ;)

Anonymous said...

That is hilarious! I, too, was fascinated by her site nine years ago when I left behind my education and a paycheck to be a mom. She gave me the courage to be a little "crunchy" and shop at Whole Foods and say no to "My Gym" without feeling bed--I rationalized that at least I wasn't having my kids suck fresh goat's milk from a teat and play with leaves. Too bad the idyll didn't last.

Primal said...

I only recently heard Mango Mama's name connected with Hygeia's name. I personlly would not recommend returning a used rubber tub/pool for it is dishonest and gross. I do not think the lotus thing is hygenic either.

I am, however, a primal mother. I have never read Hygeia's book. I was calling myself a primal mother before learning of her. Perhaps her views and mine are the same; perhaps not. I don't know.

I do know that primal (crunchy, granola, or whatever you wish to call it) is actually just natural. It's the way mothering has been since the beginning and only was changed up in the 1900's.

I do not judge anyone or tell them what they should or shouldn't do. I do not stereo-type conventional mothers and would hope that I would receive the same respect from them.

Anonymous said...

Hi do you have MM's myspace url?
Thanks~

Anonymous said...

Just so you all know...Eating an entirely raw food diet is the healthiest possible lifestyle choice one can make..and if done correctly--so rewarding beyond your wildest dreams!! Anyone who disagrees should do a little research on the hazards of cooked foods. As far as Hygeia or Mango Mama...they might be complete whack jobs, but women are certainly able to give birth unassisted!! There are plenty of countries where women have also given birth at home, alone..many return to work the same day! Americans treat labor like an emergency or a disease!! A pregnant woman is not sick!! Women need to recognize their personal power and have a little faith in basic biology!!

Anonymous said...

lotus births also have a lot of benefit to the baby, as they build a strong immune system, and can prevent all sorts of childhood cancers, and autism. i think the idea of treating the placenta like the baby is a little far fetched and weird though. There are ways to keep the cord away from the baby's body and to not have to handle it regularly. More importantly, I think the idea of doing something to honor the physical separation of mother and child is very important here, even if it's saying some sort of blessing or intention at the time it is cut. Babies are very sensitive and at the beginning of their lives they cannot perceive any separation between their mother and themselves.

MANGO MAMA said...

I am Jennifer "Mango Mama'...
I am not a freak... I did not abandon my children... I did not make my son sick from a raw food diet... I still live a healthy lifestyle and am close to my children...
For the truth from the source- not a rumor:
My email is: vanlaanenj@yahoo.com
My blog is: http://jennifervanlaanen.blogspot.com/

Sunflowerdancin said...

ah ha She rises! Welcome back Mango Mama aka Jennifer Van-Laanen. I too loved to read about how we should all raise our kids, and felt the twinges frequently about not meeting her prescribed guidelines. Still I loved to read how it 'might be' to live in this eutopian life. I now understand the 'Mama' has undergone some transformative processes herself, as seen on her blog. We can now read about what didn't work, and how Jen has remarried and reinvented herself. Stay tuned.......

Shawn said...

As a true friend of hygeia, and an admiring onlooker to what mango mama did in the name of following what she felt were her mothering instincts, I say do whatever is right for you and you wont have any regrets. As a primal mother myself (no not the 'extreme' kind, just breastfeeding cosleeping organic, etc) i know that being in tune with your body and child, in todays society especially, isnt always the 'popular' thing to do. The advertisement will tell you to buy this, teach that, inject EVERYTHING lol but really i think it comes down to that mothers intuition and self education. i think if more mothers learned about the healthiest, most nurturing ways to raise a child, their instincts would also guide them to a more natural lifestyle. why some mothers take care of a placenta after its detached from their body and would seem appropriate to remove also from child, IDK lol but i do have faith that a mother doing her VERY best is better than a mother who is content w following the media's parenting dictations.

BTW Hygeia's "SCAM" consists of her accurate representation of her life, beliefs, and advice and promotes her homemade Cozy cradle baby slings( part of the proceeds of which goes to providing free slings to poor mothers)

also im posting from my husbands gmail account but if u have any questions about primal mothering, you can feel free to message me on myspace www.myspace.com/iperu

THX!

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Viva said...

Please don't judge people unless you know them personally. As Jennifer is like an aunt to me, I can say that she is really a lovely person and very intuitive as far as her personal needs. Her daughter is one of my best friends, and I've never known a sweeter more "emotionally healthy" girl. As for her eldest, he's been my boyfriend for two years and I love him dearly. You guys make me so mad. And to bring her children into this? It's disgusting..