The “change of life” is a euphemism employed to describe female menopause in humans. This period, when childbearing becomes no longer possible, is seen by many women as a difficult or embarrassing stage of life. Yet, as with any major change, menopause can bring good along with bad, and may in fact lead women to new discoveries about their lives.
Women are born with a finite number of reproductive eggs already in their ovaries. Each time she gets her period, a woman loses one egg. Most women begin menstruation in their early teens, and continue regularly experiencing periods until their late thirties or early forties.
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As the body ages and egg supplies dwindle, women may begin experiencing hormonal fluctuations and irregular menstrual cycles. These are the first symptoms of menopause and can last for several years before periods cease altogether. Once a woman has run out of eggs, she can no longer bear children and will likely experience a permanent reduction in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. The entire cycle, from preliminary indications to the cessation of menstrual bleeding, is often called the change of life.
This term is quite specific, for menopause is doubtless a major alteration of any woman's physical and often psychological state. For thousands of years, women were valued and defined by their childbearing ability; in many cultures, to be barren or go through menopause was a sign of uselessness. In most modern societies, the worth of a person is no longer defined by her ability to bear children. Nevertheless, the change of life can be a difficult or frustrating time for some, but also a moment for reflection and peace of mind for others.
Even with the modern standards of value for women, this phase can bring about feelings of depression and loss. Those who proudly stood behind the decision not to have children may experience regret or doubts about their formerly dedicated beliefs. Others see it as an unmistakable sign of old age and a consequent loss of beauty and desirability.
On the other hand, it is possible to find considerable freedom in menopause. Women who have spent their lives avoiding pregnancy for physical or lifestyle reasons may now be able to finally relax and enjoy sex without worrying. Those who have suffered through abnormally heavy periods or painful side effects each month may be relieved to see the end of menstruation. Many women also understand that the change of life may stop them from giving birth, but has no effect on their ability to be a loving and supportive mentor or mother to young people.
Matriarchal cultures have long revered women past the change of life. No longer required to spend her time raising and protecting children, a postmenopausal woman was often considered a wise elder, skilled in healing and tough as nails. For women reaching the age of menopause, it may help to think of the change of life as a badge of honor for those strong enough to survive youth.