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By Heidi Bardot, MA ’99, Director, GW Art Therapy Program
I didn’t know it at the time but my experience as an Art Therapy graduate student nearly 15 years ago proved life-changing not only professionally but—more surprisingly—on a very personal level. I discovered my passion to help traumatized individuals express their emotions through art, while also developing incredible friendships with similarly souled women. But it was one friend in particular, Helena (Lena) Hillinga, MA ’98, who recently provided the ultimate demonstration of the deep connection between us—she gave me the gift of life.
When we were students, Lena and I immediately bonded over our similar histories of growing up overseas and our love of art therapy. We dreamed and planned and, upon graduation, traveled for four months through the Middle East and Europe, meeting with counselors, social workers, art therapists, school leaders, NGO representatives, and anyone who would let us bring art therapy to their organization. We carried everything on our backs: art supplies, paper, laptop, camera, video, and shared clothing.
We began in my country of birth, Lebanon, and ended in Lena’s home country of Holland. Along the way, we did art work with students in Athens, shared ice cream with local art therapists in Florence, rode bikes through Switzerland, and hopped an endless night train to Portugal. I got engaged in Paris, and, together, we met my in-laws for the first time and shared a champagne toast with them. We collected more than 150 pieces of artwork and presented our research the following year at an American Art Therapy Conference.
In the ensuing years, we both got married, changed jobs, celebrated numerous birthdays, and welcomed the birth of Lena’s twins—all events that deepened our friendship despite the fact that Lena had long since relocated to Seattle.
Two years ago, when Lena found out that I could not medically carry a child, she and her husband, Doug, offered my husband, Frederic, and me a true gift—to become a surrogate for our child. On June 4th, our son was born with all four of us there to witness his birth.
It has been an amazing process to experience such love and generosity. Both Lena and Doug have sacrificed in order to bring our dreams to fruition and to allow us to have the joy of parenting that they have experienced with their two children. The four of us have been deeply connected and bonded by this experience—we have become family.
Lena and I often think back to what brought us together . . . GW and its Art Therapy Program. Today, as the director of that same program, I continue to seek ways to foster an environment where students not only learn, explore and grow professionally and clinically, but also where they can bond and create deep connections emotionally with others. The possibilities are endless and often unimaginable, but sometimes they begin with the smallest of seeds in the most unassuming of places.
Photo caption: Heidi and Frederic Bardot, center, with their newborn Luca Bardot; and, left and right, Lena and Doug Haas and their children Carlena and Adriaan Haas