When Nicci Marinelli, 30, of Christiana, Pa., went to sleep on July 6, she was experiencing stomach pain that she thought was a stomach virus."It just hurt a little bit. I didn't think anything of it," she said.
At 6:30 a.m., she woke up to pick up her boyfriend and the father of her three children, Joe Dubree, who was away in Maryland, and noticed that her stomachache still hadn't gone away. It was getting worse.
"It was a constant pain," she said. "I dealt with it until eight in the morning, and then called my mom. I told her I was dying."
Marinelli laid down on the floor of her bedroom in intense pain with her mother, Donna McCullin, on speakerphone.
McCullin, who lives several miles away in Delaware, told her to call 911, but Marinelli refused, saying she didn't want to.
"I tried calling 911 from [my location]," McCullin, said, but she was unable to contact para-medics who could get to her daughter quickly.
About fifteen minutes later, she called Marinelli back, asking where her 10-year-old son, Joel, was.
Joel, who is a fifth grade student in the Octorara School District, called 911 for his mother.
"He gave his name and my name and kept saying, 'I don't know. She's in pain. Her stomach hurts,'" Marinelli said.
While Joel spoke with the dispatcher, Marinelli said she got to her knees and felt better.
"Then I kind of got the urge to push," she said. This was when she said she had a feeling that she was going into labor.
"I pushed a little bit and my water broke," she said. "And once I knew [I was having a baby], I pulled off my shorts and pushed, and [the baby] came out."
Marinelli said she held her baby, but she was afraid to look at him.
"I thought there was no way he was alive," she said. "I didn't feel any symptoms [of pregnancy] for the whole nine months. I didn't have any prenatal care."
She finally brought herself to look at her newborn son and saw that he was a big, healthy baby.
"He wasn't crying, so I turned him over and rubbed his back," she said, adding that she was relieved when he began to cry.
"I was just scared to death. I went through a million things in my mind, and I was just thinking, 'How are we going to do this?' Joe wasn't there. I was thinking I had to work the next day," Marinelli said. She was also worried about the fact that she had gotten rid of a lot of things from her last pregnancy.
She told Joel to tell the dispatcher on the phone that she'd had a baby. Joel brought her a towel to wrap the baby, and Marinelli got on the phone with the dispatcher, who told her to get a shoelace and tie off the umbilical cord. Joel found a shoelace.
"The whole time, he was saying, 'Ew. This is gross, mom,' but he was good and helped me tie the cord off," Marinelli said, laughing.
Almost immediately after they tied off the umbilical cord, the paramedics arrived to take Marinelli and the baby to the hospital.
"I've had three other children, so you'd think I would have known [I was pregnant and going into labor]," she said, adding that she told the dispatcher she felt silly for not realizing it sooner. The dispatcher assured her that it wasn't as unusual as she thought and that it has happened to many other women, too.
While Marinelli was put on a stretcher, Joel helped his siblings pack for the hospital.
"He woke them up, packed a diaper bag and snacks and dressed them," Marinelli said. "He had eight years of no siblings, and he just took charge like that."
Marinelli named her newborn son, who weighed in at a healthy 6 pounds, 9 ounces, Jack. Jack's older siblings are Jase, 17 months, Josie, 2, and Joel.
In hindsight, Marinelli said she experienced a few minor signs of pregnancy, but she didn't get morning sickness and didn't "get a belly." The only symptoms she said that seemed out of the ordinary were fatigue and back pain in the last two weeks of her pregnancy that forced her to work with a heating pad.
Marinelli said her mother and sister were simply relieved that she was okay, and they were excited to have another baby in the family.
"My dad's reaction was more like, 'How did you not know?'" she said.
Dubree's reaction was in the form of a panic attack that sent him to the hospital when he found out he was having a fourth child, Marinelli said, laughing.
Though Marinelli took five weeks off of work at Nicholas Anthony, a hair salon in Kennett Square, where she works as a hairstylist, she got a lot of attention from coworkers and clients once she returned.
"I try to be private with my personal life," she said. "And suddenly clients were coming in, saying they had heard [the story]."
Marinelli said she eventually will sit Jack down and tell him the story of his birth.
"We're going to tell him the whole story," she said. "We saved the shoelace and the pictures we have from the hospital. And we're going to tell him what his brother did."
Marinelli said Joel has told his friends what he did to help her, and he tells any fellow mothers that she tells the story to.
"They start to cry because they think it's so sweet. He's quiet, but he's letting people know," she said. "He's very mature. He's 10 going on 30."
And Joel tells his story in his own unique way.
"Later on, when he was talking [about the events of that day], he said, 'I saw some pretty scary stuff,'" said McCullin, laughing.
Joel became a local hero, and anyone who knows him isn't surprised how well he helped.
Marinelli said, "I was telling the story to his teacher, and she just said, 'Joel is a great kid.'"