Meredith Oswald knows all about Mother’s Day gifts. She has received them, and she has given them. On this Mother’s Day, however, she plans to celebrate something special.
She was the center of the most selfless of gifts from one mother to another – from her birth mother to her adoptive mother, and back.
“I have a double blessing because I have two mothers who absolutely love me,” Oswald said. “One never forgot me and loved me enough to allow another to raise me, and the other who allowed me to be her very own child and without hesitation grafted me into her family.”
Though she always had known she had been adopted, Meredith hadn’t tried to find her birth parents. The couple who raised her in West Columbia, Renee and Barry Oswald, were her parents, and she loved them dearly.
Two years ago at age 34, however, an unusual set of circumstances prompted Oswald to try to reconnect with her birth mother, who gave her up for adoption as a newborn. Oswald had trepidations about making the first call. Her birth mother, Debbie Lansing of Goose Creek, was worried enough not to return the call for a week. Like anyone in that situation, they wondered if each of them had room in their hearts for that emotional attachment.
From the first phone conversation, though, they knew. And Mother’s Day will never be the same for either of them. As Mother’s Day approached this year, Meredith Oswald sat down and wrote a message, not just to her mothers but to the world.
“For many years my mother has repeated to me over and over ‘Never give someone a loan, give a gift with no expectations of any return,’” Meredith wrote. “While I suppose this is a nice thing to say and an even nicer thing to be able to do, I always thought it was to simply shield me from those who may never repay my gestures.
“However, I have recently began to realize why my mother handed me this bit of advice. My mother after much heartache and pain was given the most precious gift in her life when I was placed in her arms 36 years ago. I was the one gift she had longed for but could not have on her own. I was adopted. I was the loan she could never possibly repay.”
‘This can’t be real’
That Meredith was adopted never had been a secret. Her dark complexion made it clear she wasn’t the Oswalds’ biological daughter. Her parents told her what their own lawyer had told them: Her biological mother had been very young, hadn’t been married to her biological father and decided to give up their child.
Meredith grew into a bright, outgoing young woman, became a registered nurse and had three children of her own. Then a few years ago, she got a message from a stranger on Facebook. “He said please don’t disregard this, but I have every reason to believe you’re my half sister, and I’ve been looking for you. We’ve been looking for you,” Meredith recalled. “I thought, ‘This can’t be real.’”
He knew a lot about her life, and the details he provided about her birth parents fit the stories she had heard. Then he shared a picture of her biological father, Al Muckenfuss, and the resemblance was undeniable.
“All through life, it didn’t really matter to me,” Meredith said. “I knew that my dad was full-blooded Native American. I thought it might be nice to know his cultural background. I’m a nurse, so it would be nice to know my medical background. But I never had that push to find out.”
She decided to meet with her half brother and her biological father. She even attended a powwow of the Edisto tribe, where she was treated like family. It all felt right.
Buoyed by her connection with her biological father, Meredith decided to reach out to Lansing. She made the call, then waited.
“I didn’t return the phone calls for about a week,” Lansing said. “I had to sit down and soak it all in and think what it was going to be like, and was I ready for it. It was overwhelming.”
But she felt that emotional tug and eventually called. They talked a couple of times and discovered how much they have in common. Meredith works as a nurse in the emergency room at Palmetto Health and cares for medically fragile children in their homes. Lansing works with special needs children.
A few months later, they got together for dinner. In April, Lansing spent part of her vacation with Meredith’s family. She reveled in getting know not only her daughter but her grandchildren.
“I’m learning her, I’m knowing her, I’m learning her ways and how she is,” Lansing said. “And it’s still overwhelming to me. Every day is something new with her.”
A call to action
Meredith contacted The State because she wanted encourage young mothers who can’t care for their babies to consider adoption. And she hoped it might make other adults who were adopted as children consider trying to reconnect with their birth parents. She loves sharing positive messages.
“That’s my daughter,” Renee Oswald said. “That’s her heart. That’s how she’s always been.”
Maybe that’s upbringing. Maybe there’s a genetic component. Maybe it’s like most of the nature vs. nurture debates, a little of both.
Renee Oswald first met Lansing during her early April visit to West Columbia. They met for the second time when Lansing came to Columbia for the photo shoot for this story. When the photos were taken, the video interview was done, Lansing finally felt the time was right to open her heart.
She looked Renee Oswald in the eye. “I want to thank you for raising her to be the perfect daughter,” she said. “You did an awesome job, you really did. I couldn’t have done it. I thank you so much.”
Just as heartfelt was Renee’s reply. “We are the ones who are grateful because, without you giving her up, we would have never had a child. And she just came into our life at the perfect time. We were the recipients of the gift.”