Pregnant Ohio Mom Poses with 20,000 Bees on Her Belly in Shocking Maternity Shoot: 'It Was a Spiritual Experience'
"Bees represent the beginning of new life and after my second miscarriage, I needed a new release," Emily Mueller tells PEOPLE
You better bee-lieve it.
An Ohio mom of three is celebrating her pregnancy by posing for a photoshoot with a four-pound swarm of bees — 20,000 flying insects to be exact — on her belly.
And, no, photoshop was not involved.
“People think I’m putting my baby at harm,” Emily Mueller, a beekeeper and owner of Mueller Honey Bee and Rescue, tells PEOPLE. “But bees are gentle and I hope my bee belly helps people see that they aren’t as scary as you might think.”
She even likened the experience to “riding a rollercoaster.”
“Not scary, but intense,” she explains. “Sure, I was nervous at first, but then it’s so exciting in the moment. My adrenaline was rushing and I was only focused on the 20,000 bees on me.
“It was absolutely amazing to connect with nature in that way and to have the bees directly on my womb was so spiritual.”
Emily, who owns her Akron apiary with husband Ryan Mueller, 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 says. “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.”
Emily, 33, and Ryan, 37, have three children — Cadyn, 10, Madelynn, 3, and Westyn, 1 — and were ecstatic to learn they were pregnant with a fourth child.
“It’s going to be our last child,” says Emily, who is due in November. “So we knew we had to commemorate the last pregnancy in a special way.
“And of course, crazy me, I’m like, I have to do a bee belly photoshoot!”
Emily worked with photographer Kendrah Damis and local government officials to come up with the creative concept.
With the blessing of the parks and recreation department, she acquired the swarm on the morning of the shoot.
“When I approach bees, I know if they are aggressive or not based on their behavior and their response to me,” she says. “I did the [hive] removal off of a park bench with parks and rec standing a few feet away.”
Emily could immediately tell the swarm was gentle. She then took it home and “manipulated it” by removing the swarm from one hive to another, testing stress levels.
She fed the bees sugar water so they would be full and unable to bend enough to sting before leaving the hive to follow the queen bee.
“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.”
And, Emily — who has been stung during her past pregnancies — says she ran her unique maternity photo idea by her midwife and natural doctor prior to shooting.
“I’ve never responded poorly to stings, so I felt comfortable doing this,” she says. “Everyone I asked said there’s no research to show how a bee sting affects a fetus.”
Emily says she was stung four times during the process, but claims all were “her fault” after she accidentally squished a few of the bees.
She even had a backup plan in case the swarm became hostile.
“I was going to rip my dress off and run into the garage,” says Emily. “Then I would turn the light on and bees fly to light when it’s there.”
The Muellers were absolutely delighted with the photographs.
“It was such a spiritual journey,” says Emily. “They are everything I wanted and just represent our family so accurately.”
While the family loves beekeeping (Cadyn is especially keen on the apiary), they won’t be naming their fourth and final child “bee, beatrice — anything to do with bees!”
“We’re just so happy,” says Emily. “I think the baby is a girl, but we are waiting to find out.”