She Was Barely Coming Down From The Excitement Of Getting Into Her Top Choice In University When She Discovered She Was Pregnant
Natalie Ruiz has crossed the stage at the University of California, Berkeley but her story is not the typical college time story. The 25-year-old Latina discovered that she was pregnant just three weeks into her first semester in college and, for a moment, she thought her dreams of graduating college were dashed. Ruiz talked to mitú about how she pushed forward with her dreams with the help of the unexpected village of people that came together to help her graduate from UC Berkeley with a 3.97 GPA.
For Natalie Ruiz, the dream of finally being accepted to UC Berkeley was almost derailed by an unplanned pregnancy.
“My absolute first thought was that my father was going to be furious, that I’d not just let him down but brought shame to him and my family,” Ruiz admitted to mitú. “I was coming down from the excitement of even getting into Berkeley, which was my number one choice that had rejected me as a freshman and accepted me as a transfer. I felt like I had finally achieved something really great by being accepted to UC Berkeley and then all of a sudden I had tarnished it.”
But, on her own accord, Ruiz decided to push forward and make sure she would one day walk across that stage to her family and friends cheering her on.
Ruiz told mitú that she put her energy into an unhealthy form of motivation by telling herself that she had no more room for failure. She tried her best to just immerse herself in her classes so that she could honor the sacrifices of her farm working abuelito. Then Ruiz began to use her real-life experience to find what interested her in her studies. As a young mother who would go to the stores late at night to use WIC stamps so no one would see, Ruiz began to study more sociology to help her make sense of her situation.
But just six weeks after having her baby, Ruiz became really ill and discovered that she has a serious case of pancreatitis that had gone undetected during her pregnancy. This left her in the hospital for a month and recovering from surgery for six months.
“In the time after I had my daughter, I went into the emergency room for a fifth time after many incidents of pain that were unexplained,” Ruiz told mitú about her post-pregnancy health scare that left her in the hospital for six months. “I was diagnosed with having severe necrotizing pancreatitis and what that meant was that the pancreatitis was getting so bad that it was essentially dying and infecting and cutting off the function of my organs, specifically my pancreas as well as my gallbladder and my spleen.”
During her six-month recovery, Ruiz told mitú that a village of people suddenly came together to help her take care of her baby.
Ruiz says that over the six months in the hospital there were groups of people helping her make it through. She was in constant contact with her professors as she insisted in staying enrolled because she needed the financial aid to pay rent, which you can still do even if you are in the hospital. But what really touched her was the organizing that her friends and family executed to make sure that her child was taken care of. Calendars were marked to keep at least one person with Ruiz and another with her baby at all times. There were also women who donated their own breast milk so that her then-6-week-old baby was able to continue feeding on breast milk the entire six months she was in the hospital. Ruiz recognizes that if any part of the support that grew around her was not there, their spontaneous health care center would have fallen apart.
But the person she thanks the most is her partner and father of her child.
“I have so much respect for the many of my friends who are single mothers, who are parents on their own, because I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my partner,” Ruiz told mitú. “I mean that in terms of helping me balance school with parenting, helping me to maintain my mental health during the stress. The emotional support.”
Ruiz says that she was lucky to be a student at UC Berkeley during her pregnancy and young motherhood.
“I am extremely fortunate to have been at UC Berkeley, where the resources available for students with children are far more generous than other universities. These resources include a student-parent grant which was added to my financial aid package,” Ruiz told mitú. “I was the recipient of a few other truly great scholarships including the Peter E. Haas Public Service Award, as well as the New Leaders Scholarship. Between these supports, as well as family support, I feel extremely privileged to have been able to finance my educational dreams.”
Now that she is a brand new college graduate, Ruiz is looking for work that will make it possible for her to help other people who are going through what she went through.
The 25-year-old graduate would like to work in social policy research. Specifically, she wants to “advocate on behalf of poor families in California” in order to better inform lawmakers about the social impact their legislation has on poor families.
“If [education] is your dream, do not give up,” Ruiz tells young mothers about juggling a baby and school.
But Ruiz does make a point to say that if you are a young mother or pregnant in college, you might have to advocate for yourself until things change. Ruiz credits her university’s procedures and resources to young mothers before her who advocated for the kind of services from which she benefited. If it wasn’t for the student parents before her, Ruiz acknowledges that her own journey navigating motherhood and college would have been much tougher. Above all else, Ruiz says you cannot and should not apologize for being pregnant or a parent. She argues that by apologizing you are making harder for universities to create the necessary spaces to help future student parents.
May you have all the future successes you have dreamed of.