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By Kat Giantis

During their mudslinging divorce battle, Madonna hinted that Guy Ritchie was "emotionally retarded," while he was quoted by a pal as saying that her sturdy build was like "cuddling up to a piece of gristle."

But the London Sun believes the exes are attempting to put the acrimony behind them and inch their way towards détente. The reason: The Big M's distress over her failed bid to adopt 3-year-old Mercy James from Malawi.

"Civil conversations between them have been few and far between in the past year," says a source. "But over the last week things have improved."

The tab claims the pair's ostensible easing of tensions was prompted in part by 8-year-old son Rocco, who got a call from Madonna while he was visiting Ritchie in London (she and the kids arrived in town from Malawi on Sunday).

"Rocco was speaking to her and suddenly turned to Guy and said, 'Daddy, Daddy. Mummy is crying,'" contends the snitch. "He then handed Guy the phone."

Last week, the director spoke up in support of his ex-wife's adoption attempt, calling her a "fantastic and loving mother" to Rocco, Lourdes, 12, and David, 3, who they adopted from Malawi in 2006.

"It's unusual for M to turn on the waterworks but this has really upset her," adds the insider. "Guy was incredibly sympathetic, calmed her down and told her to be happy with the family she had."

Ritchie, who has supposedly had a few more exchanges with Madonna, may not be the only one trying to buoy her mood. The London Daily Mirror says the Italy-aiding, Brazilian model-ditching pop icon grew misty-eyed while showing pal Stella McCartney a picture of Mercy over dinner at a London eatery a few days back.

"She dug around in her handbag for the photo and was excitedly showing it off to Stella," an eyewitness tells the paper. "But it was clearly too much, the moment overcame her. Stella told her to be strong as she tenderly gave her a hug and shoulder to cry on."

According to a confidant, "The last week has been one of the hardest in her life. She's really relying on her friends to help her through."

Madonna is appealing the adoption ruling, and Mercy is currently being watched over by staffers from her Raising Malawi charity.

"She understands what's going on," a Malawian source tells People magazine of the tot. "Mercy shouted 'Mummy' when she first saw Madonna and has been asking, 'Where is Mummy?'"

Next: Is Jennifer Lopez getting wiggy with it?