NEVER TO BE A MOTHER: A Guide for All Women Who Didn't or Couldn't Have Children; by Linda Hunt Anton; HarperSanFrancisco; $18; 185 pages.

It's an ache that no doctor can assuage - the yearning to be a mother when destiny says you will remain childless.For Linda Hunt Anton, the pain could not be suppressed or ignored. It insisted on being addressed.

Anton, a native of Richfield, Utah, who is a clinical social worker in Kentfield, Calif., wrote the book on childlessness that wasn't to be found when she needed it. "I wanted to speak to any woman who wanted children but for one reason or another, never had a child," said Anton in a Deseret News interview.

Anton's first husband kept putting off the decision to have a child through the last 10 years of their marriage. When love came a second time she joyously discovered her new husband wanted a child as much as she did.

But through years of temperature taking, surgeries and fertility pills, the little blond-haired girl to be named Jenny did not come along.

"I certainly went through the mourning process," said Anton. "There were trips to the grocery store, standing to buy chicken when I could hardly fight back the tears watching the mothers with babies and children."

The trained social worker who could help others with their problems was not able to approach a friend with her grief. "It's ironic in a way. I couldn't talk to anyone," Anton said.

This turned out to be a fairly common trait among the dozens of women Anton interviewed for her book. "So few women have really opened their hearts. Just knowing that they're not alone, struggling in the dark, helped. One said, `I feel so much more normal now.' A lot of women said `thank you.' One woman in Berkeley could hardly talk she was so close to tears," Anton said.

"Many were hesitant - one woman took five weeks to decide to talk to me. She was still mourning the loss at 55 years of age. She sobbed all the way through the interview," Anton noted.

"In my research I found that there was no difference in reactions according to age, education or economic situation. Nonreligious women who might not have had a church's strong emphasis on families were traumatized every bit as much as religious women," Anton said.

She suggests 10 steps toward resolving this loss. "Resolution means learning to accept a major disappointment in your life," she writes. "Women whose energies and emotions are bound up in the heartache and loss of being childless often put their lives on hold for years. Childlessness is a great loss, but it does not have to mean a lifetime of pain." Anton's suggestions for healing these women and helping them get on with their lives include:

- Acknowledging and experiencing the loss.

- Understanding the loss.

- Surviving the loss.

- Letting go of blame.

- Talking to significant others.

- Using available resources.

- Rechanneling mothering energy.

- Including children in your life.

- Maximizing the advantages of childfree living.

- Embracing the quest for feminine wholeness.

"Never to be a Mother" is a wise and healing book. Anton has taken the time to deal with the pain before offering suggestions for moving on. Perhaps only the woman whose arms are empty can appreciate the deep anguish that comes with childlessness. Anton meets this grief head-on and allows it to ebb.

"I have a lot of serenity in my life now," said Anton. "It's not the life I expected, but I've learned to embrace life. I want women to know you won't always feel this bad. It really does get better. There's a rich, full, interesting life without children - just different."