Claire Lee and Damien Moran are celebrating very special birthdays this year.
Claire turns 4 on Monday, but officially it will be the first time she actually gets to mark her birthday on Feb. 29, the day she was born. Damien will turn 8 on Monday, or 2, depending on how you look at it.
Both Leap Year babies are part of an exclusive club, people whose actual dates of birth pop up once every four years. The chance of being born on that date is about 1 in 1,461 people, according to leapyearday.com, which puts Claire and Damien among the estimated 5 million people on the planet who share that unique date.
As for why there’s an extra day every four years, Raenell Ochampaugh, co-founder of the Leap Year website, explained that it all started with Emperor Julius Caesar.
In 45 B.C., Caesar invented the Julian calendar. He ordered the calendar makers to add an extra 24 hours to Feb. 24 every four years so the seasons would arrive at the same time every year, Ochampaugh said.
Then in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII invented the Gregorian calendar and corrected the calculation for Leap Day, to eliminate the slight seasonal drift in the Julian calendar. So that’s how a minority of people ended up not having an actual birthday three out of every four years.
Claire was born at St. Vincent Healthcare in 2012 to Thomas and Lindsey Lee of Ballantine. She was actually due on Feb. 28, Lindsey Lee said during an interview at the family’s home.
Lee went into labor at about 4:30 a.m. on the 29th. She and her husband left for the hospital a couple hours later, while her mother stayed with the couple’s son, Vance, who was 2 at the time. Claire was born around 12:30 p.m.
“I think I was halfway through labor before I realized it was Leap Year Day,” Lee said. “All the nurses were excited about it.”
Lee often gets asked during the other three years is when the family will hold birthday celebrations. Up until now, it’s been whichever day has worked best for a party.
“I think when she gets older, she’ll do March 1 because if it wasn’t a Leap year, she would have been born on March 1,” Lee said.
This year, Claire had a Tinkerbell-themed party on Saturday with family and friends. On Monday, she’ll wear a special outfit and bring cupcakes with her to preschool, and then maybe go out for a special meal with her family.
“We’ll make her actual birthday a fun night,” Lee said. “We’ll probably go to Chuck E. Cheese.”
Damien was born at 8 p.m. on Feb. 29, 2008, at St. Vincent, his mother, Celina Hernandez, said.
Her obstetrician had predicted a Feb. 24 birth, but an ultrasound put his birthday at Feb. 29. Hernandez started experiencing contractions on the morning of Feb. 28, but a prolonged labor led to an emergency Caesarean section on Feb. 29.
“My epidural wore off, I had a C-section, I was on oxygen,” she said. “It was really tough.”
The last thing on her mind was that she had delivered little Damien on a Leap Day. But when family and friends came to visit her and husband Luis Moran, they brought gifts to commemorate the event, including a frog cake and a frog ornament.
“That’s when it registered,” she said. “I’ve never met a person that had a Leap birthday, so it was kind of neat.”
On off years, the family celebrates Damien’s birthday on Feb. 28, since he was born in February. But when that fourth year comes along, “we do something extra, extra special for him.”
This time around, Damien had a Star Wars-themed water-slide party at the Reef in Billings on Sunday. On Monday, he and his family plan to go snowboarding up in Red Lodge.
Occasional complications come with being born on Feb. 29, Hernandez said. Some people have tried to tell her there’s no such date as Feb. 29.
“Another thing I notice when we want to make an appointment for a doctor’s appointment, I say his birth date and they can’t find it in the computer,” she said. “They say ‘we don’t have that date on the calendar this year.’”
Still, she said it’s fun for her son to have such a unique claim to fame.
“We get to carry that the rest of our lives,” she said. “He feels very special when he talks about his birthday.”
Ochampaugh, who also helped to found the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, said in a telephone interview from Oregon that the society has amassed a membership of more than 11,000 people from around the world.
On Monday she turns 14, or 56, however you want to count it. Ochampaugh, who is the oldest of five children said it was confusing growing up because her mother always noted her children’s birthdays on a calendar.
Three of the children had February birthdays, so a mark was made on Feb. 6 for one daughter and on Feb. 25 for another.
“My name was in the empty box next to the 28th,” Ochampaugh said. “I always thought ‘what is up with that? Where is my number?’ ”
Through the society, she has heard untold stories of what happens to others who share her birth date. Some had their birth dates changed to Feb. 28th by well-meaning obstetricians or parents, to make things easier, and they didn’t find out about it until years later.
One Leap Year baby went to a night club and had her driver's license cut up because the bouncer thought it was a fake.
“The bouncer told her ‘there’s only 28 days in February, honey,’” Ochampaugh said. “The nightclub paid for her to get her license back, and she got a free drink.”
When it comes to making appointments, others wrestle with computers because technology hasn’t caught up with the idea that anyone could have such an odd birthday.
“If computer systems would acknowledge Leap Day, things would go so much better,” Ochampaugh said.
Asked when most Leap Year babies celebrate their birthdays on off years, she said it’s about half and half between Feb. 28 and March 1.
Ochampaugh pointed out that Feb. 29 can actually be special for everybody.
“It’s not only our birthday, it’s everyone’s extra day,” she said. “Do something good with it.”