I've begun the book of First Samuel in my Bible. I'm only in the beginning but already I've begun to notice things, striking differences between now and the Old Testament days. I've read only the first fee sentences which talk about Elkanah and his wife Hannah, the parents of Samuel who ended up being the first man to anoint a king over the people of Israel. He was a priest, a prophet, a judge. And he was unbelievably longed for by a woman who was nearly guaranteed a life of hardship because she had not birthed a child.
In the Old Testament days, children were a commodity. Not just something to long for in the early morning hours. A woman didn't sit with her coffee or tea back then in the mornings and long for a baby to hold to her breast just because babies are sweet and she is maternal by nature. A woman longed back then for a child because without one, she was seen as a failure, worthless. It was common, even legal, for a man to cast his wife aside and choose another because of her "failure" to provide him a string of heirs. It was also common that if a woman "failed" to produce children from her union with her husband, she could be required to choose one of her servant women and give the servant to her husband as a way to provide children, much like today's practice of "surrogate" motherhood where one woman will carry and bear children for another woman with little or no right to the child once it is born.
I could understand the need for a child in the those days. In those days, children were needed to help guard flocks, to help with agriculture, to help around the home. In a world where a mans name was his honor and his reputation, children were needed to carry on that name.
Today, we don't need children for any reason other than to carry on the human race. We don't even have to have one child per couple to achieve this. We could probably choose ten of the most successful, most intelligent couples from each nation and carry on the human race quite successfully, improving the human gene pool and the speed with which we consume this planet in the meantime but the drop in population. We don't need them to guard our sheep or cattle; we have dogs, weapons, alarms and electric fences for that now. We don't need them to help in the household ... many of us can afford a housekeeper that is fully grown and properly trained.
Perhaps this is why the status attached to "barren" women is now much less severe than it used to be. As we become more efficient as a species, we have less need to procreate other than the simple pleasure of the act and the sweetness that comes (most days) with being a parent. Women unable to have children, and indeed men also, have options now. You can have your own sperm and eggs "harvested", "fertilized", and re-implanted if the uterus in question is assumed healthy and able to bear the burden of pregnancy. Because of the abundance of people procreating with no interest or ability to parent, you can choose a child that did not come from your body and rescue that child from a life of poverty and hardship. You can choose a newborn is you truly long to hold an infant that belongs to you, or you can choose an older child who is helpless and unloved because of the preference for newborns.
And you are not seen as a failure as a woman. You are free to make these choices even if you are perfectly fertile and able to provide your man with a passel of children. You can be as fertile as the Duggars, and yet decide to adopt. You can combine adoption with natural birth as Angelina Jolie has. Or you can simply choose one or the other. The choice, as women, is ours.
And in that ability to choose, we have truly come "a long way".