"SOLA," a memoir from North Salem resident Julietta Appleton, is out today
“A lot has happened to me in my life,” North Salem’s Julietta Appleton says simply.
Appleton’s mother died when she was 9. Two years later, her father, a Hollywood publicist, was ostracized from American life during the Red Scare, in which perceived Communists were rooted out of the U.S. government and Hollywood film industry. Those life-altering moments were just the start of a highly unusual childhood that Appleton details in her new memoir, “SOLA: Hollywood, McCarthyism, and a Motherless Childhood Abroad,” out today.
“There are so many layers, at so many levels, that I’ve had therapists say to me, ‘wow, you’re really high functioning!’” Appleton says with a laugh.
Throughout her life, Appleton has used humor to cope. How else do you deal with having attended 17 different schools in the U.S. and Europe, having lived in 36 different homes and in six countries? “In fifth grade I was put with first graders, because they figured that was the way I could learn the language,” Appleton recalled. “It was so embarrassing.”
As a young child, Appleton grew up an industry kid in Hollywood. Running shopping errands on Rodeo Drive was common, as was Marilyn Monroe being invited to your birthday party. Then suddenly, Appleton was uprooted to Europe, and found herself as a tween in places like Ibiza, Venice and the Canary Islands. During these challenging years she suffered physical abuse at the hands of her father, and tried to navigate a lonely journey to womanhood without her mother and often without a grasp of the language of the country she was living in.
In Europe, Appleton began to realize how atypical her childhood was, and she struggled with loneliness. “It was hard, not being able to communicate with anybody,” Appleton said.
By high school, Appleton relocated to the United States to live with her aunt and uncle in Queens, New York. “It was a calming, reassuring experience,” she said. That little and long overdue dose of normalcy helped set Appleton on a path to fulfilling her adult potential.
Perhaps ironically, Appleton’s entire adult life has been devoted to mothering. She founded The Birth Cottage, the first freestanding birth center in Westchester County, NY. “How does a motherless girl grow into a mothering woman? Not just of two kids, but of hundreds of people? I’m not quite sure how I did it,” Appleton mused.
In 1979, Appleton founded the Childbirth Education Association of Westchester and Putnam. A certified childbirth educator and doula, Appleton made it her life’s work to help women have the kind of births they desired, whether that was with or without medication, with or without a doula or midwife, or in a hospital or home setting.
Appleton’s latest specialty involves working with women who struggle with vasovagal syncope, a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure that can lead to fainting in reaction to stressful situations. Appleton’s clients have a high degree of anxiety around the condition as it relates to going into labor.
“I work with women to reframe the experience,” Appleton said. “I’ve had tremendous success.”
Reframing may be the thing that Appleton has had the most success with—not just with her clients but especially throughout her own life. She has found a way to take her painful childhood and examine it from a new perspective, to find the humor in it, and to share the empathy gained from living as a motherless outsider and apply it to her work as a motherly figure for women beginning their own transitions into motherhood.
“I’ve thought about this memoir for years, because I thought, how am I going to write it?” Appleton said. “I do want people to know my story, not to glorify myself, but for this concept of agency. I want people to know that they can be okay.”