Emily and Ryan Mueller are expecting another little one — and the Ohio couple couldn’t “bee” happier.
Emily, 34, of Akron, made headlines last year when she celebrated her pregnancy by posing with a four-pound swarm of bees — that’s 20,000 flying insects — on her belly. Tragically, her pregnancy resulted in a stillbirth. Now, the mom of three is preparing to welcome another baby, and she’s celebrating with another bee-filled shoot.
“I didn’t want to do the same thing I did last time. I wanted to do something more unique,” Mueller tells PEOPLE. “I truly wanted to represent the amazing miracle of how a woman’s body is so amazing and we’re all a goddess being able to give birth. In my mind, I wanted to be a symbolic queen bee.”
Emily teamed up with photographer Kendrah Damis for a series of maternity shots, including one that showed the expectant mother painted as a gold “Egyptian goddess.” She wore an elaborate necklace with a swarm of about 16,000 bees resting on her head and chest. She says she attached the queen bee to a cap on her head and let the insects all flock to her.
“Someone called it a ‘bee-opatra.’ Cleopatra is a beautiful, ornate, gorgeous woman,” she tells PEOPLE. “And bees are such a huge thing in the Egyptian history. So I wanted to mix all that together, turning myself into a beautiful, Egyptian goddess like Cleopatra and using the bees that are symbolic in Egyptian history.”
During her previous pregnancy, Emily, a beekeeper and owner of Mueller Honey Bee and Rescue, said she and Ryan were excited to complete their family with a fourth child. (They have three children Cadyn, 11, Madelynn, 4, and Westyn, 2). But the pregnancy ended in tragedy when Emily suffered a stillbirth last fall.
Now, she says, her new maternity shoot is in memory of their late son.
“We wanted to honor him one more time. I found it exhilarating and I absolutely enjoyed every second of it,” she says.
Emily learned she was pregnant in February, just three months after her son’s stillbirth. Due this fall, Emily tells PEOPLE that her latest pregnancy hasn’t been easy.
“It has been the most anxiety-ridden, terrifying experience that anyone could ever imagine,” Emily says. “You just realize how fragile life is and there’s nothing you can do to stop your baby from dying inside of you. So every day is lived in an extreme amount of fear.”
With that, Emily says she was happy to pay tribute to her son in another bee-inspired photo. For her latest maternity shoot, Emily didn’t only stick with bees. Other pictures showed the expectant mom with a large snake resting on her belly and a bird perched on her finger.
“The strength Emily portrays as a Mother is admirable to say the least,” Damis wrote in a Facebook post. “When she mentioned wanting to exhibit that strength by turning herself into a goddess for her maternity shoot I wanted to make that vision come to life. Her ideas are unique just as she is, and that is one of the reasons I love her so!”
Emily, who owns her Akron apiary with Ryan, 38, first got into beekeeping after suffering several miscarriages.
“Bees represent the beginning of new life and after my second miscarriage, I needed a new release,” she previously told PEOPLE. “I connected with the bees and it helped take my mind off of other hardships that were surrounding me at the time, some people do yoga… I do bees.”
Many were shocked by Emily’s shoot last year, but the bee expert said she took several precautions and only moved forward with the shoot with the blessing of the parks and recreation department.
“I am in my beehives on a regular basis, I do it as a full time job so for me it’s normal to have bees on me,” she says. “It’s normal.”
In the photographs, she is holding the queen bee, clipped out from the hive, in a cage in her left hand.
“I pressed my hand to my belly, because bees follow their queen, so they would settle on my womb,” she explains. “People feel like I’m endangering my child, but it’s due to a lack of education on honey bees — they don’t understand how gentle they really are.”