Let me start of by saying that I *truly* do not believe there is a right or wrong answer to this question. Every family and every situation is different and deserves individual consideration. And honestly, I don't even know how I can answer this question for our family alone!
Taevy's adoption was very traditional. We requested an infant, as young as possible (either gender) and knew that our agency would send us a referral and that child would be our child. There was really no question in my mind like, "What if I don't feel a connection?" Maybe I was naive? But I did feel a connection--instantly. She was ours and we were hers and it didn't matter at all to me that she was randomly chosen for our family by the agency, as I believe that in truth, she was chosen by God to be our daughter.
Samren's adoption couldn't have been more different. I was working in adoption at the time and had just helped to set up a Vietnam program. Pictures of waiting children were being sent to my inbox, including a 2 month old baby boy. I could NOT get him out of my mind. It had been less than a year since Taevy had come home and we didn't have a penny to adopt, so it didn't even occur to me that we should adopt him. However, I was obsessed. I looked at his picture a hundred times a day and prayed hard for his family to find him. Finally my boss (director of the agency) said, "Have you ever considered that this is your son?" Oh my goodness! He WAS our son! I realized it at that moment and Eric was on board within a day or two. We were holding Samren in our arms 2 months later. I suppose in this way, Samren was "pre-identified", but not in the sense that we sought him out and found him. He found us.
Next we received photos of Juliet and Emmanuel in Ghana. This was much harder for me, as they were three years old. They have developed personalities and 3 years of life before adoption. When I saw Juliet's face I felt immediately that we should accept her. But we had planned to adopt two children, one being a baby and the other being up to 4 years old. It was harder for me to "let go" of the baby plans in order to accept Emmanuel's referral. Nevertheless, I did. And I was TRULY excited to be bringing these two beautiful 3 year old children into our family!
Then I traveled to Ghana in order to meet Juliet and Emmanuel. This is where everything I WANT to say gets shady. I knew immediately that Juliet and Emmanuel were not supposed to be our children. It was really hard for me to come to terms with. What if I wouldn't have traveled to meet them? Would I have felt that way after they came home? What kind of horrible person an I if we let go of their referrals? So many hard questions with very few answers. For the record, I do believe that if Juliet and Emmanuel would have come home to us that they would have become 100% our children and the Lord would have knit our hearts together--without question. But that's not the way it happened. I was in the unique situation of knowing before the adoption that these two children would be better placed in other families. In the end we let them go. Now Emmanuel has been adopted by a WONDERFUL couple where he will be the only child (exactly what he needed). And as it turns out, Juliet would have never come home to us anway--she is living with family in Ghana.
Then to Bright's referral. He was a bit untraditional in that I knew "a six month old baby boy" was coming into care and I knew before I left Ghana that the orphanage was planning to refer him to Eric and I. As it turned out Bright was 11 months old and in horrible shape--but it didn't matter. Just like with Taevy... I knew immediately that I wanted Bright to be our son. That feeling has never waivered. After the experience I had in meeting Juliet and Emmanuel there have been a few thoughts like "Would I still feel this way if I met him?" I think that's natural. But it's not like I just have a photo of Bright. I've heard tails of his personality, and have many photos of him. I know he's probably going to have some challenges. I know he's not "perfect" (except to me). He's still my son. If something happens and he never comes home I will forever count him as my son. Forever.
Finally, we will be receiving a referral from Ethiopia (Lord willing). If our fourth child is to be a baby then it will happen much like Taevy's referral. The agency will assign a child to us that fits our requests (under 12 months, either gender, healthy or special needs) and there really should be no reason for us to turn the referral down. On the other hand, maybe the Lord has more surprises in store and our child will be on the agency's waiting child DVD. I've learned not to count anything out at this point!
Each person has to decide what is best for them. Some people have a harder time with "blind faith" that the child referred to them is the perfect child. Others have no problem with receiving a name and age (without even a picture) and having absolute faith that the child was chosen by God to join their family. Wanting to pre-identify a child, or hoping for a lot of information on a child, shouldn't count against one's faith. God works it ALL for good! How boring would it be if we all had the same story? Nope--God is a lot more interesting than that. He helps adoptive parents find their children in all sorts of ways. It's all part of the miracle that is adoption.