We were a military family and were stationed overseas in northern Italy; it was 1999. I was twenty-six years old and pregnant with my first child, a daughter.

As we were not assigned to a base, I was to give birth at a foreign hospital. We spoke some basic Italian but were provided with a Red Cross translator throughout the pregnancy and delivery.

On my actual due date, my water broke and we arrived at the hospital, waiting for labor to begin. After many hours, my doctor decided to perform a Cesarean section. This was an unexpected change of events, and I was terrified, as I was far from my family and exhausted from the sheer pain of the contractions for so long. They proceeded to strap me down to an operating table during a contraction to prepare me for surgery. I cannot explain how frightened I was at that moment. They were going to put me to sleep via general anesthesia and asked my weight in kilograms, of which I had no idea! I told the translator my weight in pounds and was told to count backwards from 100.

The next thing I remember is that I existed in a dark vast empty space, full of nothing, that went on for infinity, just floating forward without a body but with the ability to see everything, like in 360 degrees. It was like outer space, but with no stars or planets. It is really difficult to explain, but I don't remember seeing anything like objects or other people, but at the same time I could see as if it was lit up (not sure if that makes sense). It wasn’t like the blackness you see when closing your eyes. There were no sounds or smells that I can recall.

After realizing my predicament, I felt utter shock. The first of my two thoughts was, "Oh no, I'm dead." I just had that internal knowing, like a deep realization that I had left the world and also my body somehow; it was beyond confusing. Then my last thought went straight to, "I am not going to get to see my baby," and at this point I felt indescribable sadness because I waited so long to meet her.

Now, during this time floating in the darkness, space or void, I could not tell you if it was 15 seconds or 15 minutes; it was like time did not exist. I also don't recall any sounds.

After that moment of feeling shock and great sadness, I awoke in a hospital hallway. They had just removed the tubes from my throat and I was begging for a drink of "aqua." I was relieved to see my husband and couldn’t wait to meet my baby girl. I was in a huge state of confusion as to where I was.

I did not tell anyone what happened right away, nor did I have any doctors tell me of any problems during anesthesia. Was I given an incorrect dose of anesthesia? Was I so profoundly terrified that I left my body? Was I spiritually removed from my body for protection? I don't know. I was kept in the hospital for seven days. There was no mention of any complications, nor did I ask. I only mentioned my strange and sad life-like memory to my husband later, but I brushed it off as a bad nightmare/side-effect of the general anesthesia.

Since I had never had surgery before, I thought it may be normal, but it was so real. The alternative, realizing I may have died or left my body briefly, was too much to comprehend and I was simply not aware of this kind of thing happening. And away the memory was pushed and I went on to have two more children and live my life.

So now, fast forward twenty-two years, I began to analyze and interpret that moment instead of trying to ignore it. After realizing that your brain cannot dream while under general anesthesia, I became panicked because I had to face that memory and figure out what had happened. As I began to delve into other people's experiences through books and websites, I had the realization that my strange encounter was not unique and had a name, a Near-Death Experience. I felt a wave of panic, and adrenalin run through my body, upon this realization.

In fact, others had described that same dark, black void space outside of their physical body, exactly as I had encountered it. In recalling the details, and comparing it to some NDE experiences, it was not the typical tunnel and white light with loved ones waiting. I have wondered why this is, but realize not every NDE is the same or starts the same.

After keeping this memory hidden away for twenty-two years, I feel like a lot of things in my life now make more sense. My intuition is very sharp; I sometimes just know things. Over the years, I have had a couple of premonition flashes just before falling asleep of events that were going to happen. I have always been spiritual more than religious, but now since my realization of my NDE, I feel even more spiritual and knowing. Talking about my NDE is limited, as people in my family get very uncomfortable, so I have learned not to mention it. My husband and children believe me, which is comforting.

It’s difficult not to feel different after something like this happens to you. I like to think that the reason I returned to my body was because it was at the moment I remembered my new baby girl was there. Even though my experience was very short, I am a true believer that our lives exist outside of this world. Our consciousness does not die but continues on to the next realm or world.