By BETH J. HARPAZ
NEW YORK - Peter Brouwer turns 56 on Wednesday. But if you count the times he's celebrated his true birth date, he's only turning 14.
Brouwer is a Leap day baby. And like a lot of people born Feb. 29, he relishes the uniqueness of his birthday. He even thinks there's an advantage to marking your real birthday just once every four years.
"We don't have that psychological drama of being a year older every year," said Brouwer, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is the co-founder of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies.
In off years, Brouwer says, most Leap day babies - perhaps 80 percent - celebrate their birthdays in February "because they're born in February. We call them strict Februarians."
But Jennifer Whisnant of Greensboro, N.C., whose daughter Ava was born in 2008, says they "celebrate on the closest Saturday for a party, or on March 1st, which is technically when she would have been born had it not been Leap year."
Birth certificates and most government agencies like Social Security use Feb. 29 for those born on Leap Day, but leaplings occasionally encounter bureaucratic difficulties using their true birth dates. Some computerized dropdown menus don't include Feb. 29.
"My life insurance policy is for March 1 because their computer doesn't support Leap day," Brouwer said.
On Facebook, Anne McCarthy's friends get a note Feb. 28 that her birthday is the next day. Then on March 1, "there would be nothing. So, unless it was a Leap year, friends would not see birthday reminders for the actual day," said McCarthy, of Boston, turning 24 on Wednesday (in Leap time, 6).
There are no reliable numbers on exactly how many babies are born on Leap day, but statistically, the odds of being born then are the same as any other day.
"The law of averages means your chance of being born on Feb. 29 are one out of 1,461," Brouwer said, explaining that 1,461 equals 365, or the number of days in the year, times four, plus one for the extra day in the four-year cycle. "We figure in the U.S., there's about 200,000 of us, and in the world, about 5 million."
There's also no good way of definitively determining whether mothers with scheduled C-sections or induced births avoid or embrace Leap day.
Fewer babies are born on weekends in the U.S. than on other days, according to research by the National Center for Health Statistics, and since Leap day fell on a Sunday in 2004 and a Friday in 2008, birth numbers from those years don't tell the whole story.
What will happen this year is anybody's guess. At Inova Health System in Virginia, where more than 20,000 babies were born last year in four hospitals, "women are running from the date. That's what we've found," said spokesman Tony Raker.
But at Florida Hospital in Orlando, "people would rather have the baby on Leap day. We have a slight increase in the number of scheduled C-sections on that day since it is a special day," said hospital spokeswoman Sara Channing.
One of those scheduled to give birth Wednesday at Florida Hospital is Tammy Gerencser, who didn't hesitate when her doctor proposed scheduling her C-section Feb. 29.
"I got this sheet of paper that said, 'You're going in Feb. 29,"' Gerencser said. She said while a few people told her, "Oh no, you need to change that date,' other people are so excited."
This will be her and her husband's second child. "I was told I couldn't have any more children, so he's special anyway," she said.
Andrea McGowan, a labor and delivery nurse at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, predicts that Leap day "will be like any other Wednesday" in the maternity ward. But she can give firsthand advice to anyone who becomes a mom that day: Her own daughter was born Feb. 29, 1996. "Having that birthday adds a little flair," she said. "It's a conversation piece."
The towns of Anthony, N.M., and Anthony, Texas, both on the line between the states, host a Worldwide Leap Year Festival every four years the week of Feb. 29, with a carnival, car show and other events. Past guests range from a 16-year-old leapling (4) who came from California, to a local man who's the oldest at 92 (23), according to Hector Giron, one of the organizers.
Some leaplings come up with their own rituals to mark non-Leap years.
Rachel Laber, who lives in New York City and will be 24 on Wednesday (6) prefers to celebrate her birthday Feb. 28 in off years. But to placate those who argue for March 1, "I have taken on a two-day celebration the last 10 years or so."
Jan Harrell of Ashland, Ore., handles off years by staying up until midnight with friends who shout "Happy birthday!" in "that magical nanosecond" between Feb. 28 and March 1.
"My birthday feels like a cosmic joke," said Harrell, who turns 64 (16) this week. "But not a bad one, just a very, very funny one."