Embarking on eight hours of uninterrupted bliss is one of life's true pleasures. So when I was pregnant, my thoughts immediately turned to sleep. Or sleeplessness, to be precise.
"How bad is it really?" I asked. Those who had crossed over would look at my well-rested face and shuffle about. "It's not… so bad," they lied.
Then baby came. And it was that bad.
Pre-baby, a couple of substandard sleeping nights would leave me feeling rough. Eight months post-baby, and my partner and I had had one night of joined up sleep. The other 240 nights were spent vertical (patting, feeding, co-sleeping, bribing, more feeding, threatening adoption and begging) with a 3 week trip to the UK thrown in to really break us.
While some nights were better (baby only woke twice!) and some outrageous (got 10 minutes sleep last night!), the tiredness compounded and my attempts to get baby to sleep became increasingly irrational. Complex combinations of temperature, light, pyjama gsm, and bed time routines were trialled – if there's a full moon and she's seen a marmalade cat that day and there's a tap dripping in the background, then she'll sleep – and each proved more ineffective than the last.
One night my partner— too afraid to turn a light on lest baby woke – walked forehead first into a very hard wall. As his brain whirred with concussion, we decided it was time to call sleep school.
After filling out an unreasonable number of forms (an especially onerous task for the knackered), baby and I were headed for a five-night stay at Victoria's Masada Mother Baby Unit. I was apprehensive. Masada was known for its uncompromising toughness. Would I be allowed to leave the compound? Could I watch The Voice blind auditions? Would they have soy sauce on the premises?
Oh, and would it work?
The first thing I noticed when I entered the hospital were the sea of thank you cards at reception. I stopped to read a few. They were long and gushy. Common phrases jumped out: "got my life back", "Masada angels", and "life changing". I sniffed, it looked like their marketing department had been busy practising their good handwriting.
After unpacking, I explored the ward. Baby – and 19 others – were to sleep in separate rooms. Some were positioned opposite their parent's room, while others were clustered further away in the "pod".
Part of Masada's appeal, I learnt, is that for the first two days and nights, the nurses would be responsible for overseeing baby's attempted sleeps. If my calculations were correct, if one night of sleep in 9 months was the going rate, then two whole nights would be enough to power me through the next eighteen months!
When it was time to put baby down for her first day sleep I gave her a little pep talk. Yes this was going to be different, I said, but it's for the greater good. Baby looked at me with impishly; little did she know what was coming. I zipped her into her sleeping bag, said good night and closed the door. This was it kiddo. No more long and convoluted good night routines where I'd sing a Sound of Music medley, read Anna Karenina from cover to cover and say sweet dreams in multiple ASEAN languages. Nope, we were down to "good night".
The other mothers did the same, and the babies did a collective howl. Twenty mothers wrung their hands, paced outside their baby's door, looked ashen and fought every primal cave-lady instinct which said: Pick. Up. Baby. But we'd all signed up for the same reason and I told myself to trust in their system.
After the designated screaming (sleeping) time was up, we went in to fetch our babies. I scrutinised baby's tear-stained face and saw my future very clearly. Yup, I was destined for a budget retirement home.
And so for the first two days and nights, we popped our babies down, said good night and walked away as their little faces crumpled behind us. And I slept for two whole nights in a row.
Despite the unnatural conditions, a lovely camaraderie formed between the mothers and the nurses. While the babies "slept", we attended seminars, shared labour war stories (you had how many stitches?!) and pressed our ears up against our baby's cell doors.
From day three onward – oddly more exhausted by our excess sleep – we started the hands-on part of our stay: settling. The Masada settling technique involved a sequence of actions that mainly involved patting baby. I was ready and eager to learn this mysterious technique except that every time baby required settling, I happened to be in a seminar, on the toilet or scoping out the hospital's complimentary tea and biscuit selection.
When the settling stars finally aligned, I followed the nurse into baby's room to learn from a sleep sifu. This was it: this was the answer to all my family's sleeplessness in one, simple-yet-highly-effective technique. I walked into the darkened room. Yet so dark it was, all l I could make out were a series of thumps and shhhhss and I stumbled back into the dazzling sunlight none the wiser.
To compensate for my lack of applied experience, I practised patting anything that consented: a doll, a nurse's shoulder, my partner, an obliging tree trunk, and on the final day, I drove home with the same question on my lips as when I arrived – would it work?
Three months on and I'm pleased to report that baby is now the featherweight sleep champion of the world. My partner and I can now flush the toilet, walk up and down the hallway (even on the creaky bit) and don't need to communicate in blinks.
When I bump into other mothers or fathers who have been to Masada, it's like a happy cultish reunion. Our heads tip back, eyes roll heavenward and we drool with pleasure as we gush about the Masada angels and getting our lives back.
Looks like I owe the nurses a card in my best handwriting.