Skip to main content

Education & Outreach


Interview: Meet Tiffany, our 2023 Create! Birthparent Arts Grant Winner

Create Birthparent Art Grant Winner Interview

This year our Create! Grant applications were an embarrassment of riches - so many smart, thoughtful ideas! We are so grateful to everyone who applied. We truly have an incredible community of talented birthparents!  But one proposal stood out to us, both because of it's creativity and because the winning applicant created a program that lets her use the winning grant to help other birthparents find healing and peace. That level of creative generosity and spirit is why we awarded the Create Grant for 2023 to Tiffany, a birthmother who uses art as a conduit to healing. 

Without further ado, we'd like to introduce our Create! Birthparent Arts Grant winner, and let her tell us all a little bit more about the program she created with it. 


Let’s start with the basics: tell us who you are. and what your connection to adoption is.

My name is Tiffany, and I am a lot of things, but in my connection with adoption, I am a birthmom.

You were our Create! Birthparent Arts Grant winner this year. Congratulations! What can you tell us about your winning proposal?

It’s funny - I've known about the Create! Birthparent Arts Grant almost as long as I've been involved with On Your Feet, and I always felt like, oh, I am an artist, and I'm a birth mother, and this would be great for me, but never knew how to make that into a proposal. So this year, as reminders about the grant application kept coming to my inbox, I kept thinking, oh, that's nice. Then right before applications where about to close, finally, I had this idea of incorporating different parts of what I do into a project. Another hat that I wear is, I'm a social worker, and I do a lot of art therapy in my social work. I'm not a licensed art therapist, but I do incorporate a lot of my passion for art in the work that I do with my clients. And I thought, I should try to incorporate that into a proposal, because where I live in the northeast, there really isn't much support for birthmoms, much less anything like adoption-informed therapy that can help through the creative medium of art. It’s funny - it just kind of came to me as I was writing; more and more ideas were coming to me. The grant proposal wasn't something that I had planned out for months or anything. It was more like, I have to do this proposal and this is my passion and let's just put my passion on paper and see what happens. Then More Than Art was formed.

And now we have this whole new program coming in 2024 - More Than Art - to help birthmothers heal! Tell us about making art - how can making art help people heal? 

Art, for the most part, is a nonverbal communication. It allows us to tap into something deeper within us - feelings and emotions that we may not be able to name - and also just our own consciousness. When I got involved with art therapy, it was as a client first. Before I had a pregnancy or placed for adoption, I was involved in art therapy as a client. And one of the first things that I noticed about art therapy was, there was no judgment. There was no pressure that my piece needed to be in a museum, or needed to be showcased. It was just what was happening in this moment. And sometimes it was just me, taking a paintbrush to the canvas and seeing what happens with that, and having that freedom of expression. I was able to release emotions that for years had remain dormant within me and I didn't even know were still within me.

Oh, that's so cool. Is that how you got started making art - in art therapy - or were you doing it before then?

I've been finger painting since I was like, two years old. So yeah, my spirit has always been very creative, and I've always been involved in some creativity. No matter what path I've been on and even jobs that I've taken, I’ve incorporated art and media. My mind tends to think in terms of a story. Even with the Create! Grant, I'm thinking of in terms of how to advocate and promote using storytelling.

So what exactly is More Than Art? Tell us about this new program for birthmothers you’ve built.

To start, it's structured, but also not structured. The structure part is that there's a format to give  consistency in the group. More Than Art is a group that meets four times together (virtually, on Zoom), focusing on the adoption triad, (birthmom, adoptee and adoptive parents) and then the adoption journey. So first, we're going to focus on the birthmom because that's who we are. We are birthmoms first. Then, we're going to focus on our child, the adoptee. Next, we're going to focus on our relationship with our child’s adoptive parents, or lack of relationship with them. And then lastly, we're going to look at the whole picture, through the lens of a journey. What is our adoption journey thus far, and where do we want to go? Each week we will come together and first discuss either a poem, or a piece of writing, or piece of art that is about that week’s triad focus, and then we will have a prompt, based on our role in that journey. The not so structure part is the time there is to create. That process will be highly individualized, and although you will have the support of doing this process with other birthmothers, each participants interpretation to the prompt will be vastly different based on their experience with adoption. While we create maybe their is conversations or maybe not – there's no pressure! I see it as a time for us to be focused inward, as individuals, but in that space, also supporting each other, because although we all may have taken different routes to get here, again, we will be doing this together. 

Is it easier to communicate through art instead of talking?

I think it depends on the reason that we're doing art. What I like about art -  and specifically art therapy - is that it's universal; there's groups for children, there's groups for seniors, there's groups for people of all different abilities. It's really universal. It's not like oh, you need be talented in art to be able to join a group; it's very open and accepting. And I think also as birthmoms, we tend to be such a unique niche that we sometimes don't know where we fit in, with regard to therapy or being able to trust that process. I think art allows us to have that freedom and that openness of expression, so we can be vulnerable.  

What would you say to a birthmother/giver who says, I am not an artist. Can I still do this?

 Of course! Actually, because you're not an artist you should join! This has nothing to do with ability or talent. As long as you can hold a paintbrush, you are good to go. That's all that really matters. You don't need to do the technical parts of it. You don't need to know how to mix colors. This is an exploration. One thing about art therapy, and one thing that I'm hoping to focus on in my group, is that we will start with very structured art mediums. We are not going to use mediums like watercolors, which can be very fluid and require learning how to control them, because that can be very frustrating. I'm hoping that we ease our way into starting these projects to say, what is most important is that I am in control of how I'm feeling right now, while I'm controlling this medium. That’s the most important part, not talent or experience in art-making. 

Is it more the process of making art, or is it the end result, that helps people heal? How can making art help birthparents heal?

 The first step to healing happens before you even pick up a paintbrush; that's premeditative, choosing to show up for group. It's allowing yourself to be vulnerable, however that might look like for you, and participating, and then once you've formed that connection and have trust in the process and within the group, I think then the benefits of art therapy can really begin and flourish. After a piece of artwork is actually created that is piece of your adoption history; that's a piece of who you are in a tangible item that you can hold and show to the world, or not show to the world. There's birthmoms in art therapy that will create art as part of their healing process and then destroy their artwork after they created it, and that is a whole, valid process for them. That is healing.  

I think attending More Than Art will give birthmoms a space to be able to produce and process their often deep emotions and their hard to name feelings in whichever stage they are within their adoption. Art is just the catalyst to having an opportunity to meet other birthmoms, express yourself with non-verbal communication and create a piece of work that tells your story. 

Do some forms of art better lend themselves to the healing process?

I think so. Something I learned when I attended educational classes in art therapy , was to start with artistic mediums like clay, or collage, or markers, because those are the kinds of art mediums that are easier to have control over. Again, in art therapy, artistic ability is not required, so you shouldn't be getting frustrated over the art that you're doing because you are using a medium that requires some mastery; then you're missing the point of just having freedom to show your emotions through your art. I like to start with a little bit more structure and then participants can explore new mediums based on their comfort level. 

Is it okay if a birthmom attends this group, but doesn’t want to show anyone what they created?  

Of course! This is what I would say to participants: first and foremost, this is about you! This is about what you feel is right for you. It is extremely important to me that participants never feel any pressure that when they go and start creating that their piece will need to be seen by anyone. I ask though, that people show up ready to be open. So if someone comes into the group saying, no, I don't feel comfortable sharing this with anyone, maybe not even with the group, that's okay. But I ask for everyone to come open to the idea that maybe, that might change. And maybe that'll change right away. Maybe it'll change in a few months from now, or maybe it won't change at all. That’s ok, too. 

What would you say to a birthmother that says, what if I don't have any art supplies? Can I still join? I don’t even own a paintbrush.  

Apply! Accepted participants will be getting an art kit sent to their homes containing all the supplies they need, even the paintbrush! 

So it won’t cost participants any money?  

It will not cost them anything. It will just cost you to be committed to participate and be open to others. 

What are some misconceptions people have about making art?  

Oh, that's a great question. I think the biggest misconception is that people think you have to be a right-brain thinker – that you have to be super-creative and smart, and take a lot of art classes, and that’s not true at all, any of it. I believe we were ALL created to create and how each one of us creates, regardless of who we are, is all a little different! 

You have made art yourself as a means of healing. What did you learn from the process?  

I'm a person who, in my regular life, strives for perfection, and with art therapy. I've allowed myself to get messy and know that it can't be perfect. It won't be perfect. And that's okay. It’s more than ok. 

What is the most rewarding part about making art? 

Art is a coping skill in my toolbox, but sometimes it is really difficult to pick up that pen and start creating. A good comparison is it’s like when a runner who needs to run a marathon, the hardest part is sometimes just putting on the sneakers, but once they do, they can start running. I feel the same way in creating art; that sometimes it's just so painful to sit down with a canvas, because you have all these ideas rushing, and big feelings, but once you start, and just allow yourself to say, you know what, in this moment I'm going to allow myself to pick up that pencil and see what happens. That's when the magic can begin. 

What do you hope the participants get out of this?  

First and foremost, I hope they know that they're not alone; that there are many other birthmoms out there, all on their own adoption journey. My desire is that each participant can gain the slightest bit of understanding and acceptance in their adoption journey through making art. I hope my passion for art and through my own experience of being a birthmom, I can illuminate the message that I can't make a birthmom's difficult emotions or unfair experience disappear but I want to support their journey with love and a paintbrush! 

 Registration for More Than Art opens in January 2024 - watch our Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, website in January for more information, including registration dates. 

Thank you for recognizing the importance of post-placement support: