May 12, 2017

Natalie Ruiz hears this a lot from people: "I don't know how you do it."

To grasp why they ask, we have to go back nearly four years. Ruiz had just moved into her dorm at UC Berkeley, a transfer student from Solano Community College who worked hard to get into the No. 1-ranked public university in the United States.

And the pregnancy test she was looking at was positive.

She didn't know it then, but going through the pregnancy, giving birth and caring for a newborn would be the least of her worries as a UC Berkeley student. A frightening medical diagnosis and life-saving surgery would soon top that.

So, as Ruiz prepares to walk across the graduation stage in her cap and gown this weekend, people wonder.

They don't know how Ruiz raised a daughter while completing a double major in sociology and social welfare.

They don't know how Ruiz survived the rigor of UC Berkeley, even as she recovered from surgery, for acute necrotizing pancreatitis, that required her to walk around with a portable feeding tube for six months.

They don't know how she found time to work as a legislative intern for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to volunteer as a GED tutor at San Quentin State Prison, and to be an undergraduate research assistant in the sociology department.

And they don't know how she still had the drive to raise $50,000 as the food donation program director for the Student Parent Association, an organization that picks up and delivers grocery donations to more than 100 student parent households.

So the amazement — "I don't know how you do it" — is a familiar one to her.

"People say that to me all the time, looking at me like I'm this Wonder Woman," she said while zipping the sleeves of her leather jacket.

Yes, I checked her wrists to see if she was wearing metal bracelets like Wonder Woman.

Here's the secret to Ruiz's success: fear.

"You do it afraid, but you don't do it alone," she told me as we sat at Philz Coffee on Shattuck Avenue.

Read more  and see photos

San Francisco Chronicle