• Heather DiPrato

Meet the Kotzkers: No Day but Today

Story by Heather DiPrato. Photos by Michele Freiling Photography. Thanks to Freedom Insurance Group and Anita Allegrezz0 for sponsoring this story in Yardley Living!

Rich and Dari Kotzker have loved raising their kids Jade (11), Lacey (9), Andi (6), and Chase (2), and their new puppy Jax, in the very same Yardley Hunt home where Dari grew up. The Kotzkers path to building their family was not as simple as it may appear from the outside. The couple struggled with infertility, suffered miscarriages, and turned to IVF before welcoming their first child into the world. Their youngest was born with the help of IVF and a gestational carrier.


Dari and Rich first met at a New Year’s Eve party when they were both in college. Dari attended the University of Maryland, and Rich attended Penn State. “We dated for a few months, but went our separate ways,” says Dari. “Two years later we reconnected and have been together ever since!”


Rich was raised in Southampton, and Dari grew up in Yardley. “In college, I majored in broadcast journalism,” she explained. “Rich majored in business at Penn State and earned an MBA from Temple University. We got married in September of 2005 at Spring Mill Manor in Ivyland, Pa.,” says Dari. “We are both Jewish, so we were married by a Rabbi at the Manor and this was followed by a black-tie Saturday night party!” After the wedding, the couple honeymooned in Hawaii. “We love to travel and explore,” Rich tells us. “Dari and I did a lot of traveling before we had kids. We went to the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Rome, and the Greek Isles in our early years together.”


Rich began his career at Ernst and Young and has worked at Aramark in Philadelphia for more than 15 years. Dari’s career brought her right back to Yardley after college! “I got a paid one-year journalism residency at NJN Public Television located in Trenton, and my boss was actually from Yardley too,” Dari tells us. “I eventually stayed on in the production department working on documentaries and a show called Classroom Close-up.” Dari won a NY Emmy in 2003 and was nominated for a Philadelphia Emmy. “I later attained my goal of being a news reporter by working my way up into the NJN News department. It was an amazing experience!”


After NJN closed in 2011, Dari became a reporter and producer for NJTV News (owned by WNET). “My office was located in press row in the State House, but I still traveled all over the state,” she recalls. “I felt so lucky to get a second chance to do my dream job.” Dari stopped working when pregnant with her third child, Andi, due to hyperemesis, and after her birth, decided it made more sense to stay home. “I went from a full-time working mom, dropping two kids off to daycare every day, to a stay-at-home mom with three kids (and now four),” she explains. “So, I’ve experienced both kinds of motherhood, the working mom and the stay-at-home mom!”

Dari remembers the difficult process of becoming a mother, “When trying to get pregnant, I had three miscarriages in a row. We would see the heartbeat at 8 weeks, and 9 weeks no heartbeat.” The couple decided to have the embryos tested after their loss and there were no chromosome abnormalities. “It ended up I needed a hysteroscopy to redesign my uterus because it was my body having trouble holding babies,” says Dari. “The procedure was successful, and I conceived Jade via IVF. We were then able to have Lacey and Andi naturally.”


However, while pregnant with Andi, Dari had a new challenge. “Starting at 7 weeks pregnant, I started getting constant morning sickness which ended up with me in the hospital for a few weeks,” she recalls. “I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum and had to have a PICC line for most of the pregnancy. I had to stop working, and my mom had to take a leave of absence from her teaching job to help take care of my other daughters (who were 3 and 5 at the time). It was a very scary time. Every night, my husband would come home from work and have to put together the feeding bags for the intravenous PICC line (how I got nutrition since I couldn’t eat). After Andi was born, doctors warned me not to have any more children because the hyperemesis can come back and be worse.”


After Andi was born, the couple thought they were done having kids, but knew they had embryos from an IVF cycle to conceive Jade. Dari recalls, “We had them tested and learned the viable ones were all boys. To us, it was a sign that bringing a son into the world was meant to be.” Because of the severe health issues experienced with her last pregnancy, the couple started with the surrogacy process. “I spoke to two people who had gone through the process and that was a lot of help. After hearing about their experience, we signed with an agency,” Dari tells us. “Three months later, we were Intended Parents, matched with an amazing gestational carrier from Boise Idaho, and started our surrogacy journey together!”

Because the Kotzkers were willing to be matched with a gestational carrier who was not within driving distance, the process moved more quickly. “Although we lived on different sides of the country, we bonded and had a great relationship,” says Dari. “The first time we met in person, it felt like we had always known each other!” Fortunately, the IVF procedure, which took place in NJ, was a success. The gestational carrier conceived the Kotzker’s biological son, Chase! “At the 12-week mark, we told the kids that they were going to be big sisters and explained the surrogacy process using a children’s book,” says Rich. “They were pretty understanding about it and excited about it.”


“Throughout the process,” Dari recalls, “the gestational carrier would text the family and send pictures from all of her ultrasound appointments. And since we were having a boy after three girls, my friends threw me a surprise baby shower,” she remembers fondly. “It was wine and Broadway-themed! It was the only time I’ve been to a baby shower where the mom-to-be can have a glass of wine!” Chase was born on May 18, 2018. “We got to witness his birth in Boise,” says Dari. “After he was born, Rich and I got our own hospital room with Chase. Our gestational carrier was down the hall recovering, and we would bring the baby to see her. My thinking was that they spent 9 months together, so they deserved some time to see each other before we flew back to Yardley!”


When the Kotzkers returned home, they woke up the girls to meet their new baby brother. “It was so exciting! We let them take off school the next day so they could spend all day together,” recalls Dari. “It was an unbelievable experience. People have asked if having a baby via surrogacy is different than having the baby yourself and the answer is ‘No!’ The only difference is that I don’t have the birth recovery aspect. Chase and I bonded right away, along with our whole family immediately!”


The Kotzkers remain close with their gestational carrier. For Chase’s first birthday, she flew in to celebrate, spending time with the family, then sightseeing together in Bucks County, New York City, and Philadelphia. Fun fact: Jade and Chase are biologically considered fraternal twins because they are from the same IVF cycle! “Their embryos were created at the same time,” Dari explains. “So although Jade is 11 and Chase is 2, they are twins who are nine years apart!”


The Kotzker’s newest addition is Jax, an adorable BichPoo puppy. “We never had a dog before Jax,” Dari explains. “My three daughters were petrified of dogs from birth, but the minute Chase was born, he was obsessed with dogs, like no other kid we have ever seen! That’s what made us start thinking about getting a dog. And now that he’s part of our family, we all love Jax!”

Although their journey to building their family has had many twists and turns, the Kotzkers are loving life together in Yardley. “Our family motto would be based on one of my favorite Broadway shows, Rent. ‘No Day but Today.’ It’s not that we are a super adventurous family, or live this extravagant lifestyle,” says Dari, “But I feel that if an opportunity comes our way, we should grab it and do it. If you don’t do it today, then you may not do it tomorrow.”


In alignment with that motto, the family loves to travel. “Our number one family place is Disney World,” says Rich. “In fact, we were there a week before it shut down due to the pandemic.” Dari continues, “I’m so obsessed, I am one of those people who plans every second of our trips, in fact, I have planned friends’ trips too for fun. We have gone 5 times in the last 7 years!”


In September of 2019, the couple was able to take a dream-come-true trip to Salzburg, Austria in honor of Dari’s 40th birthday. “My husband and I took the Sound of Music tour, a bucket list item of mine,” says Dari. “I love the songs, the storyline, and the characters. My first dance recital when I was 4 or 5 was to The Lonely Goatherd, and in high school, I did a speech on the original Maria von Trapp. I’ve taught my kids all the songs since they were young!”


She continues, “We stayed at the palace where all the outdoor backyard scenes were shot. There are no words to describe how amazing it was to be in the actual location the movie was made. I had a “curtain dress” made to wear for the occasion. We then did the official tour around Salzburg and neighboring villages where many famous scenes were shot. It was amazing! I’m so lucky to have a supportive husband like Rich, who came along to share this experience with me! I made a YouTube video of my trip that has over a thousand views!”

In March 2019, the Kotzkers took another major trip, this time to Honolulu joined by their extended family. “This trip taught me a big lesson,” says Dari. “We had an 8-hour delay, then a 12-hour flight, and if we can survive that with 4 kids in tow, we can survive anything!” Luckily, once the family arrived, it was the trip of a lifetime. “One day, we did a private tour to the North Shore and experienced the beauty of the island and had some adventures! Everyone would ask, what are you celebrating? And my answer was ‘It’s to celebrate Family!’ You never know what life can throw you, if you want to do something, do it!”


Asked what they like most about our town, Dari tells us, “Yardley is a gem! My college friends used to say I live in the ‘Yardley Bubble,’ because they said it sounded like I lived this idyllic childhood through my teen years. And it really was! That’s why I want my kids to have the same type of experiences I had. There’s a saying around here that “everyone comes back” and it’s true. In fact, my 3 best friends from high school are in Yardley again, we all live in a mile radius of each other!”


The Kotzker family is active in the community, from kids’ sporting events and Girl Scouts, to family walks along Lake Afton to grab coffee and bagels. They also love connecting with their neighbors! “Since my surrogacy journey, some people have contacted me asking questions about fertility treatments and surrogacy. I’m not a professional, but I’m always willing to answer any questions from my own personal experience,” says Dari.


If you are interested in learning more about the Kotzker family’s IVF and surrogacy journeys, you can e-mail Dari at: djkotzker@gmail.com