Coping With 'Unfathomable' Incest, Abuse

"Since she has never had any frame of reference, I assume, for a healthy parent-child relationship — a key ingredient in promoting adaptive functioning in children — it is possible that her relationships with her own children are strained, ambivalent or avoidant," Sprang said. "This will pose unique challenges to her children."

A Whole New World

Still, the relationship that the children have with their mother may be their strongest tether to normal human interaction. This relationship will be tremendously important, as the children will likely face a number of psychiatric issues stemming from their captivity.

"For the kids born and raised in captivity, they are likely to think that what they lived and experienced was normal, since that is all they know," said Dr. Vatsal Thakkar, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. "It is entirely possible that they may have a sharply limited capacity to ever attain a normal life in a world that is foreign to them."

"Schizophrenia is a likely outcome, and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is a minimal prospect," Fields said.

But she added that recovery — and a semblance of a normal life — may not be completely out of the question.

"Some of the children born in death camps, and with their earliest experiences only in these horrors, have grown up and — despite periodic episodic reaction breakdowns — managed to form relationships and live somewhat normal lives with the help of continuing therapy and support," Fields said.

And the road to this recovery could begin with compassion and support.

"You begin with kindness and love," said Roberta Temes, a psychiatrist at Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Memories will not make themselves known until the woman and her children are psychologically strong enough to cope with those memories," she said. "Until then, if they stay away from energetic shrinks, they should be able to build up their psychological resources and gradually assimilate into society.

"The children, with enough opportunities to play, might surprise us and be just fine."

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